68 Days of Life: What are pro-life riders?

Category: Blog
By: Tom McClusky
Posted on: November 14, 2013

68 Days of Life: What are pro-life riders?

Earlier I wrote of a pro-life “rider” called the Mexico City Policy.  But for those who are not up on legislative lingo the obvious question is “what exactly is a pro-life rider?”  Here is my feeble attempt to elucidate (ding ding ding – word of the day!).

For many years pro-life measures have been added to Congressional appropriations bills to prevent taxpayer dollars from being used to promote or perform abortion, protect the consciences of health care professionals, and prevent funding for unethical human embryo experiments.  Often referred to as pro-life riders, each year these provisions are included in legislation reported out of Appropriations subcommittees.  One seasoned pro-life champion prefers the term pro-life “provisions” – as opposed to “riders.”  The term “riders” gives an indication that these legislative actions are only “along for the ride.”  He tends to explain it more articulately than I, and I agree with him, so I try to use it as often as possible when talking on the subject.

Some of these measures have been in place for over thirty years.  The Hyde Amendment, for example, has been in effect since 1976.  Enacted under a Democratic Congress, the Hyde Amendment has been renewed by administrations and congresses regardless of party control. Without retaining pro-life provisions on annual appropriations bills there is no assurance taxpayer dollars will not be used to fund or promote abortion. 

Over the years these different provisions have gone through different changes.  Like the Dornan Amendment which when originally passed in 1988 guaranteed no tax dollars (federal or DC funds) can be used for abortion in DC.  When President Clinton took office in 1993 this provision was removed only to be restored in 1996 when the Republicans took over both chambers of Congress.  Subsequently a Democratic Congress and President Barack Obama once again open the door for tax funded abortions in 2009, and it was only after some outside pro-life pressure that the new Republican majority in the House restored the prohibition in 2011.

Even the granddaddy of the pro-life provisions had sad changes to it.  Originally the Hyde Amendment, passed in 1976, prevented federal funding in Medicaid for performance of ALL domestic abortions.  In 1993 pro-abortion folks, bolstered by a President Clinton once again, forced changes to the law, opening the door for some taxpayer funding of abortions.  Just recently a similar provision in the Defense Authorization added the same changes to that appropriation.

Not all of the changes have been bad ones though.  I was honored to be a small part in 2011 in codifying one of the pro-life provisions.  Thanks to the now-current Vice President of Government Affairs at Family Research Council (FRC), working closely with House Leadership and Judiciary Committee staff, the passage of the “Weldon Patent Ban” as part of the “America Invents Act” to prevent patenting of human embryos was a huge, though not loudly trumpeted victory for the pro-life movement. FRC took no position on the bill in full but praised codifying into law a major pro-life provision.

This new law made permanent the ban authored by former Congressman Dave Weldon (R-FL) that had been renewed each year since 2004 on the Commerce, Justice and State Appropriations bill to prevent the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office from issuing patents on “human organisms.” The House of Representatives, led by Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Lamar Smith, added the Weldon language into the bill to make this ban permanent and it was ultimately signed into law by the most pro-abortion President in history, Barack Obama.  How is that for irony?

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