(photo credit: boxchain)
Following scant debate, the Senate last week approved an amendment to an Indian health care bill that would permanently prohibit the use of federal dollars to fund abortions for Native Americans except in rare cases. The move has prompted an outcry from women’s health advocates—who point out that a similar ban has existed on a temporary basis for years—and from tribal groups, who are asking why Native American women should be subject to restrictions not applicable to other ethnic groups. Some charge that the Senate proposal is overtly racist.
The debate pits anti-abortion lawmakers on both sides of the aisle against health-care advocates who fear the latest move could set the stage for broader abortion prohibitions under federal programs outside the realm of Indian health services. In addition, there is the intrigue of scandal, for the sponsor of the controversial amendment, Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), made headlines last year for his earlier entanglement in a prostitution ring. Several abortion-rights sources suggested that Vitter—who built his political career on family-values issues—is trying to bolster his conservative credentials in the wake of that embarrassment.
Senator Mary Landrieu voted to approve the Vitter provision, as well as nearly all of her colleagues in the U.S. Senate. It passed 83-10.