Defense Bill Includes Authorization for Abortions by Military Personnel

By Christopher Neefus | December 10, 2010 | 4:01 AM EST

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid with President Barack Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

(Update: Senate Republicans on Thursday blocked the legislation, which would have lifted the military's 17-year-old ban on openly homosexual troops as well as the ban on military personnel performing abortions.)

( – Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) brought a Defense Department funding bill to the Senate floor on Thursday with the controversial “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal included in it, but a lesser known part of the bill would have made another significant change to military policy.

An amendment attached to the bill by former Sen. Roland Burris (D-Ill.) during the committee process would end the decades-long ban on military personnel performing abortions in military-run hospitals and facilities.

The current law, found in Title 10 Sec 1093 of U.S. Code, only allows abortions to be performed by military personnel in DOD facilities in the event of rape or incest, or to protect the life of the mother. Burris’ amendment would overturn that principle, which has been a permanent part of the law since 1985.

Burris, who was appointed by Gov. Rod Blagojevich to fill President Obama’s Senate seat, lost re-election last month and has been replaced by Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), who has already been seated due to the rules of his special election.

But Burris was able to add his amendment back in May during the so-called “mark-up” period in which the Senate Armed Services Committee votes and adds a series of changes to the proposed National Defense Authorization Act before reporting it to the full Senate floor.

The committee voted 15-12, mostly along party lines, to approve the amendment, with Democrats like Sens. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) supporting it and Republicans like Sens. John McCain and James Inhofe in opposition. Only Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) crossed the aisle to attempt to block it.

The GOP is balking at taking a vote on funding the DOD that also includes this controversial measure and the repeal of the Clinton-era “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.

Inhofe’s spokesman sent a statement in which the senator says, “Like Hate Crimes language in last year’s bill, it is inexcusable for liberals to try to include items like…legalizing abortion in military hospitals in the Defense Authorization Bill. This is just another attempt by the liberal majority in Congress to advance its far left agenda…by forcing their radical social policies on our nation’s military.” 

Inhofe also expressed his frustration with Reid’s repeated attempts to bring the bill up for a vote without spending much time debating and amending it.

“Finally, every year the NDAA is fully debated with hundreds of amendments considered. During this time, members of the United States Senate have been able to discuss and debate the impact of each amendment before voting. This year should not be different.”

However, spokesman Jared Young said it was not certain that 41 of the 42 Republicans would vote to deny Reid “cloture,” in which he needs 60 votes to end debate and move to a vote on whether to pass the bill. Forty-one ‘No’ votes would be enough to block ending debate, but two GOP members have already expressed willingness to vote with Reid – Sens. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine).

Collins, however, has some requirements for Reid, who already delayed a cloture vote Wednesday in order to negotiate with her. She is asking the top Democrat, who sets debate parameters, for more time to discuss the bill, which Young explained to is “usually considered over about a two week time frame.”

Collins is reportedly willing to settle for as few as four days, but wants the GOP to be allowed to offer around 10 amendments.

“There are many people in my caucus who disagree with my position,” Collins said. “They deserve an opportunity to offer amendments to strike that provision, to modify it, and also to address other important controversial issues in the bill.”

One of those issues, the abortion authorization language, could get a vote to be dumped if another Republican offers an amendment that would do so.

It’s not yet clear whether Reid will agree to Collins’ terms, and a call to his office was not returned by press time.

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