(CNSNews.com) - Congress passed a $388 billion spending bill in a rare Saturday session - a 14-pound, thousand-page bill that includes a provision championed by pro-life groups.
An amendment to the omnibus spending bill makes it easier for doctors and others to refuse abortion-related services.
The Hyde-Weldon anti-discrimination amendment - also known as the federal refusal clause -- says state and local governments that receive federal funds may not discriminate against health care providers and companies that refuse to perform abortions, pay for abortions, provide coverage for abortions or make abortion referrals.
The amendment protects doctors and other health care professionals, hospitals, HMOs, and health insurance plans, among others, the National Right to Life Committee said.
Douglas Johnson, legislative director for National Right to Life, praised Republican leaders for passing a law "which will prevent state and local government officials from compelling health care providers to participate in killing unborn children."
But feminist and pro-choice groups expressed outrage.
"In a backdoor maneuver of the worst kind, anti-abortion legislators are attempting to destroy a woman's legal right to receive reproductive health care services," the National Organization for Women said in a press release.
NOW accused House and Senate Republicans of sneaking the language into the House spending bill - "to thank its right-wing base."
NOW President Kim Gandy called it "our worst nightmare - Congress trying to rob women of their full access to health care." She said the "cynical measure" endangers women by placing their lives "in the hands of insurance companies and overzealous medical administrative staff."
NOW compared the amendment to the conscience clause some pharmacists invoke when they refuse to fill women''s birth control prescriptions.
"This gag makes women's bodies the property of right-wing legislators and allows insurance providers' personal and religious beliefs to dictate her ability to receive health care.
"This is the tragic beginning of a tyrannical march to indenture girls and women as second-class citizens, slowly limiting their autonomy and authority over their basic health decisions," Gandy said.
"NOW will not sit idle or silent while girls and women are used as pawns to repay political favors to a vocal minority."
NARAL Pro-Choice America called the amendment a major new restriction on women's freedom.
"This latest move ensures that a significant piece of the anti-choice agenda will become law without a single hearing or an independent vote in the Senate," the pro-abortion group said in a statement.
"This measure is the third major piece of the anti-choice agenda the Bush crowd has gotten through in 12 months," NARAL said. The other two pro-life measures apparently include the partial-birth abortion ban and the Unborn Victims of Violence Act.
The House approved the spending bill 344-51, and the Senate voted 65-30 in favor. The pro-life amendment to that bill was approved last summer by the House Appropriations Committee and the full House, with support from the White House.
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