San Diego Union Tribune

June 6, 2005
Davis, Hunter lose defense battles; Filner wins one for vets

By Dana Wilkie

Too many cooks: There was no shortage of San Diegans trying to get their two cents' worth into the recently passed House Defense Authorization Act, the annual policy and spending blueprint for the nation's national security activities.

Of course there was the closely watched provision by House Armed Services Chairman Duncan Hunter – a plan to bar women from certain combat positions, which the El Cajon Republican eventually dropped under pressure from the Pentagon. But there were also interesting items proposed by the San Diego delegation's two Democrats, Susan Davis and Bob Filner.

For the second time in as many years, Davis tried unsuccessfully to include a plan allowing overseas troops and their relatives to get abortions at military hospitals and clinics, as long as they pay for them with their own money. Democrats have been trying to do this for nearly a decade, and Davis, as a member of Armed Services, is the most recent crusader.

Military doctors, whether at home or abroad, can perform abortions only in cases of rape, incest or when a mother's life is endangered, and the government does not pay for the procedures. Troops in the United States who want abortions must go to other public or private hospitals.

Davis argues that women stationed in Iraq, Afghanistan or other overseas assignments must either go to foreign clinics where there may be language barriers or substandard conditions, or must take leave from their jobs to get abortions back in the United States. Servicewomen overseas, she argued on the House floor, "do not receive the protection of the Constitution they defend."

Davis assembled a host of Democrats to help her argue her case. But Republicans countered with arguments that military hospitals would "become abortion clinics," convincing the House to vote 233-194 against her plan.

Filner was more successful: With unanimous support from the House, he won an amendment calling on the Defense Department to consider giving veterans with disabilities seats on military aircraft.

Argued Filner: "We need to allow seats that would otherwise go unused to be occupied by men and women who have been disabled in their service to this nation."

The amendment authorizes a study by the secretaries of defense and veteran's affairs.

Two sides to "pro-life: " It may come as no surprise that Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham defied President Bush by voting for a House bill to expand federally funded stem cell research using discarded embryos. The Escondido Republican is the guy whose bout with prostate cancer years ago left him far more sympathetic to health-care issues traditionally embraced by Democrats.

But what's Rep. Darrell Issa's reason? The Vista Republican was also among the 50 Republicans who supported the House bill, which would ease the GOP president's August 2001 order restricting federal funding for embryonic stem cell research by giving researchers access to fertility-clinic embryos that would normally be destroyed.

Generally speaking, Republicans who oppose legalized abortion tend to dislike the idea of using human embryos for medical research. Issa opposes abortion except in cases of rape, incest and when a mother's life is endangered. On the other hand, he does not support a constitutional amendment banning abortions, having said in the past that he would "live within the laws" allowing legal abortions.

Said Issa: "Duke and I both have a strong respect for life and want to continue to promote respect for life. But we both recognize that promising research needs to be weighed in the balance, and we both voted based on that balance."

Trivia question: Besides former presidential candidates Bob Dole, Shirley Chisholm and Al Sharpton, what other notable politician is an alum of New York's Brooklyn College? That would be California Sen. Barbara Boxer, the Democrat who graduated in the class of 1962 and was the speaker as the college last Thursday celebrated its 80th commencement exercises. Dole attended a military training program in the winter of 1943-44; Sharpton attended from 1972-1974; and Chisholm graduated in the class of '46.

Dana Wilkie is a Washington-based correspondent for Copley News Service and a longtime observer of California politics and social issues.

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