09/22/2010 04:14 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Burris Amendment On Abortions At Military Bases Gets Tabled With Defense Bill

After Republicans successfully blocked debate on the defense authorization bill Tuesday, much was made of the defeat of immigration reforms in the DREAM Act and of the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

But the bill contained another amendment -- sponsored by the most unpopular Senator in recent history -- that would have mired it in perhaps the most inflammatory battle in the culture wars.

The so-called "Burris Amendment," named for sponsor Roland Burris, emerged from the Senate Armed Services Committee mark-up of the authorization bill this May. It would lift the current ban that prevents abortions from being performed on military bases.

"There have been experiences brought to my attention where women have suffered tremendously under these circumstances where they could not receive (an abortion)," Burris said, according to WBEZ. "So this is a piece of legislation that would be involved with women's health."

It would also be involved with a twenty-year struggle around choice in the military.

Department of Defense funding for abortions has long been prohibited by federal law. Until 1988, women could have abortions on military bases if the procedure was funded privately. In that year, however, the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs, Dr. William Mayer, issued a ban on all abortions at overseas military facilities.

President Clinton overturned the ban upon taking office in 1993, but a Republican-controlled Congress re-instated it in 1996. In fact, it expanded the prohibition to cover all Department of Defense facilities, at home and abroad.

Earlier this year, Sen. Burris, the lame-duck Illinois Democrat controversially appointed by Rod Blagojevich and now suffering dismal approval ratings in his home state, set about to fight the ban. His amendment would not have lifted the prohibition on DoD funding of abortions, but it would have allowed them to be performed with private funding again.

Had the authorization bill made it to the Senate floor, the Burris Amendment surely would have brought the abortion debate with it. Already, Republican Senator James Inhofe was preparing for the fight at the Values Voter Summit this past weekend, as the Washington Times reports:

The Oklahoma Republican also warned that "they are going to turn our military hospitals into abortion clinics" and called on the crowd to rally against lawmakers interested in moving the proposal forward.

"Make sure they understand that you are watching. Because if they don't think you're watching, it's going to sail through," Mr. Inhofe said, alluding to Tuesday's scheduled vote. "You can stop it ... . If you do this, you will be doing the Lord's work, and he will richly bless you for it," he said on Friday.

The point is moot for now, with the authorization bill successfully blocked for the time being. But when the bill is reconsidered during the lame-duck session this December -- when, due to a Constitutional quirk, Burris will no longer be in the Senate -- expect his amendment to echo in the chamber.