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Catholic groups fear abortion rights bill

But it's unclear if the Freedom of Choice Act imperils a doctor's right not to perform the procedure.

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First on the Obama administration's to-do list: a stimulus package, bailouts, and ... abortion? Given the imperatives of the economic crisis, picking an abortion fight early on would seem highly unlikely.

But the Roman Catholic Church is coordinating a national postcard campaign next month to oppose the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA). Abortion opponents fear the new Democratic majority in Washington could succeed in passing the decades-old bill and Barack Obama would make good on what he told Planned Parenthood in July: "The first thing I'd do as president is sign the Freedom of Choice Act."

The bill could wipe out federal and state restrictions on abortion such as parental notification and informed consent laws. Some say FOCA is so broad it would also imperil "conscience clauses" that protect hospitals and doctors who refuse to perform abortions because of their convictions. That's led some Catholic leaders to threaten to close their hospitals if FOCA forced them to provide abortions.

Rhetoric aside, it's not certain that FOCA will move in Congress, much less get passed in its current form. Scholars are divided on whether the current bill actually jeopardizes conscience clauses – though they agree it is too vague.

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