High Noon in Harrisburg

The air crackles with suspense. One man stands alone against a horde of bullies riding into town, their guns blazing. No, I'm not talking about the movie High Noon. I'm talking about Governor Casey of Pennsylvania, who is standing up to the federal bureaucracy and defending his state's laws on abortion. The countdown began three months ago when the Clinton administration unveiled its latest ploy to advance abortion. Sally Richardson, director of the Medicaid Bureau, decreed that all abortions in cases of rape or incest will henceforth be considered medically necessary—and that states will be required to fund them through Medicaid. The directive was based on a new version of the Hyde Amendment allowing states to pay for abortions in these cases. But Richardson took the language allowing state funding and turned it into a requirement for state funding. All across the country, state officials were stunned. After all, every state has its own laws on abortion funding. Most states do not allow taxpayer money to cover abortion at all—except when necessary to save the life of the mother. The few that cover rape and incest cases—states like Pennsylvania—require the woman to fill out a report to police or health authorities. But administration officials rode into town with their black hats on and shot down all existing state laws. They even shot down requirements that rape and incest be reported. The directive says reporting requirements must be waived if the abortionist states that the woman is physically or psychologically unable to file a report. When they saw the feds coming, some state officials scurried for cover. But about 30 states have drawn a line in the sand, declaring their intent to protect democratically passed state laws. Governor Casey of Pennsylvania has even filed suit in federal court to render the Medicaid directive null and void. In a letter to President Clinton, Casey argued that administration officials are directing governors to "ignore validly enacted" state laws—while on their side, they have not even followed "fundamental procedures necessary to preempt state law." What's more, "there is no federal statutory basis to preempt state law" in this case. Sally Richardson responded to Casey by threatening federal action. The government deadline was this past weekend. But Casey isn't budging. Both sides have paced off and the shoot-out is about to begin. If the states let the feds get away with this power grab, no state law will ever be safe again. Neither will any federal law, for that matter. In an arrogant display of double-talk, the feds have taken language making something optional and announced that it really means mandatory. If language can be twisted and distorted into meaning the exact opposite of what it says, we will enter an Orwellian world where words mean whatever a bureaucrat says they mean. Find out where your state officials stand, and urge them to follow Governor Casey in courageously standing up to the federal bullies who have ridden into town with their guns drawn. The administration should not be allowed to impose its own social and political agenda by bureaucratic fiat. Otherwise we will see democracy itself go riding off into the sunset.


Chuck Colson


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