WASHINGTON D.C.- America’s raging debate on abortion rights is driving many Filipino-Americans to the forefront of a growing protest movement that could dent US President Barack Obama’s immense popularity.
Broderick Bello skipped work and drove his family from Rocky Mount, North Carolina last January 23 to join a protest march on Capitol Hill and the Supreme Court on the anniversary of Roe vs Wade, the landmark decision giving women the right to abort pregnancies.
“We’re here with my sons to give them some experience for making changes for the unborn who can’t speak for themselves,” he said.
Kimberly Espresion said she flew all the way from San Jose, California to join the march. “It’s really important to stand up for life. This is really my first time, this is the first year I was able to go to march. It’s really important because we have a new administration in the White House,” she said.
The Supreme Court voted on Jan. 22, 1973 by a 7-2 majority, that abortion is a fundamental right under the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution.
Anti-abortion groups led by a coalition of church organizations have been pressing for a reversal of the decision.
But they have an ever bigger worry with the proposed Senate bill 2020, more popularly known as FOCA or the Freedom Of Choice Act.
FOCA aims to expand on the gains of Roe vs Wade and other court decisions addressing abortion issues in the US. It provides for expanded women reproductive health care, penalizes anyone who interferes with a woman’s right to an abortion, and provides federal protection to women needing an abortion.
President Obama has said he would sign FOCA if it reaches his desk.
When the issue was brought up during the presidential debates last year, he appeared to pin his position on preventing teenage pregnancies, bolstering family unity and improved healthcare – conditions he believed would eliminate the need for abortions.
But his pro-choice stand, especially his tacit endorsement of FOCA, has raised alarms from the American heartland to the Vatican.
“He is not really concerned for life,” concluded Filipino priest Ed Sombilon, who shepherds a Fort Lee parish in New Jersey.
Fr. Jerome Magat, a vicar at the St. William of York parish in Stafford, Virginia and chaplain of the Filipino Family Fund, warns that the FOCA in its current form “would be the most radically pro-abortion legislation.”
“The Freedom Of Choice Act would practically guarantee abortion as a fundamental human right, thus making any opposition to it dangerous,” he told ABS-CBN News.
“If you were a doctor or nurse who does not want to perform abortions, you could get penalized for that. Taxpayers will fund abortions,” he added.
The Catholic Church is spearheading a campaign for parishioners to mail postcards to their lawmakers, urging them to junk FOCA.
Exit polls revealed 53 percent of Catholic voters chose President Obama in the November elections.
The friction between the White House and Vatican is threatening to spread to other issues like gay rights and stem cell research.
But a Fox News report quoted Richard Doerflinger, associate director of the US Catholic Bishops Conference Secretariat, as saying the abortion issue will likely the main flashpoint with the Obama administration.
“Filipinos have a tremendous opportunity to be real players in the cause for human life,” Fr. Magat said.
“Abortion is illegal in the Philippines. We come from a country where abortion is taboo and we have a culture that values the family. Filipinos carry all these traits that are so ready-made to be converted to such strong players in the pro-life movement,” he explained.
The number of Fil-Ams at the anti-abortion rally here appeared to buttress a pattern that became visible in last year’s presidential campaign.
Fil-Ams in the Greater Washington DC region who said they would not vote for then-candidate Obama almost always recited the same reason – his support for abortion.
Bro. Jonathan Dumlao grew up in California but is now enrolled at a seminary here. “We’re here for the truth,” he declared at the anti-abortion protest.
“I’m nervous about the kind of decisions President Obama may make,” the future priest admitted.
“His views are pro-choice so we can just pray for his conversion and hopefully he doesn’t enact any laws against life. This is a battle between the culture of life and the culture of death,” Dumlao said.