Albion Monitor /News

New Congress Pushes For Abortion Restrictions

by Jeff Elliott

Jesse Helms introduced "a bill to protect the lives of unborn human beings"
On the very first day of the 105th Congress, House freshman Jo Ann Emerson (R- Missouri) proposed a constitutional amendment outlawing abortion. "My amendment would establish beyond a doubt the fundamental right to life," Emerson told the House on January 7. "Congress has an obligation to do what it has failed to do for so long, fully protect the unborn. I urge this body to move forward with this legislation to put an end to a most terrible injustice."

Proposal of the "Right to Life Act of 1997" set the tone for other far-right members of both the House and Senate who want to stop abortion in both the United States and abroad. Of the 13 abortion-related bills or resolutions introduced since the beginning of January, only three do not call for outlawing, restricting, or defunding abortion.

The proposed laws range from the simple to the convoluted. Simple is a Senate bill introduced by Sen. Jesse Helms: "A bill to protect the lives of unborn human beings." Far more complex is H.R.137 introduced by Rep Jay Dickey (R - Pine Bluff, Arkansas), which seeks to establish a state's right to outlaw abortions even in cases of rape or incest.

"People who are pro-choice must pay a political penalty for being pro-choice"
Lines were drawn on days surrounding the anniversary of the Supreme Court's January 22, 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R - Mississipi) said that Senate Republicans were making abortion a top legislative priority. Senator Pete Domenici (R - New Mexico) also boasted that the House would not only pass restrictive legislation, but it was also possible that conservatives had enough votes to overturn inevitable Clinton vetoes.

But on the 24th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, tens of thousands of anti-choice demonstrators marched on Washington D.C. in their annual "March for Life" protest. Rep. Christopher Smith (R - New Jersey) told the cheering crowd that Clinton will be remembered as "the abortion president."

Out west, a former Pennsylvania Governor promised revenge on politicians who support women's rights. According to the Los Angeles Times, Robert Casey told an estimated 400 anti-abortion activists in Long Beach that, "People who are pro-choice must pay a political penalty for being pro-choice."

While the Right aggressively threatened, the White House struck a moderate, even conciliatory pose. "We are not going to let choice be taken away. I say that firmly, plainly. . . . That's not going to happen," Vice President Al Gore told the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League. "But I do believe there is much we can do together."

Gore also promised the administration would find terrorists responsible for clinic bombings and pursue them "to the fullest extent of the law."

While pro-choice groups seemed reluctant to criticize the government's meek caution just as the administration began a new four-year term, many women's rights activists expressed alarm at the speed of recent events.

"They don't have the votes to get a constitutional amendment, so they're going to go procedure by procedure to outlaw abortion that way"
The day before the Roe v. Wade anniversary, several bills were introduced in both the House and Senate. Most significant to date is S.B. 6, a bill to ban "partial-birth" abortions. Sponsored by Rick Santorum (R - Pennsylvania), the bill is within five votes of having enough supporters to survive a presidential veto, according to Santorum. On Feb. 15, the bill has 38 senators as direct co-sponsors -- an indication that supporters might have the 67 Senate votes needed to override a Clinton veto.

Proposing the law, Santorum said "a wide spectrum of individuals have coalesced around the effort to ban partial birth abortions... It is not about when a fetus becomes a baby. And it is certainly not about women's health. It is about infanticide, it is about killing a child as he or she is being born..."

In his comments on the Republican Legislative Agenda that same day, Senator Domenici also predicted success. "For the partial-birth abortion ban, I believe there is a compelling majority of support for the bill... [I] believe that there are even more Senators who deplore the partial-birth abortion technique than those who voted for it. I, too, hope we can get something done there."

Although it's questionable if the bill could survive a veto, Senate passage will be a significant victory for Helms and others. Even use of the name "partial birth" is evidence of a slanted agenda. The term was invented by anti-abortion proponents, and physicians call the procedure an "intact D&E."

Critics point out that it is extremely rare and performed when the mother's life or health is endangered, or when there are severe fetal deformities. It is considered the safest possible solution in this situation, and offers the woman a greater chance of future pregnancy.

But far-right members of Congress have made extraordinary claims about the procedure; one Senator said in 1995 that "babies" were being aborted at 8-1/2 months simply because they were girls or had blue eyes.

The senate's passage will open the door to still more restrictions, according to Jo Blum, vice president of government relations for the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League (NARAL).

Quoted in today's (February 15) National Journal, Blum said, "I think their stated aim is very clear... They don't have the votes to get a constitutional amendment, so they're going to go procedure by procedure to outlaw abortion that way."

Analysts claimed that funding abortion in cases of rape and incest were "state's rights" issues
Besides the proposed "partial-birth" ban, other bills limiting abortion werer proposed on the day before the Roe v Wade anniversary,

Sen. Helms introduced his law to "protect the lives of unborn human beings," as well as another to "make it a violation of a right secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States to perform an abortion with the knowledge that the abortion is being performed solely because of the gender of the fetus." Helms provided no evidence that this problem was worthy of Congressional attention.

That same day, Arkansas Democrat- turned- Republican Jay Dickey offered H.R.137, which would prevent the Department of Health and Human Services from witholding Medicaid payments from states that prevented abortion in any circumstances, including rape and incest. Analysts claimed these were "state's rights" issues.

February fights over abortion
First abortion conflicts between the 105th Congress and Clinton arose in early February over foreign aid and family planning funding.

The administration wanted a $385 million budget for birth control as part of the State Department's Agency for International Development (AID). Similar to earlier compromises, the White house agreed to delay implementation until July.

According to the Washington Post, AID estimates that delaying the money until July,will deny men and women in 60 countries some 50 million condoms, 500,000 intrauterine devices and 4.8 million cycles of contraceptive pills.

On Feb. 14, the House narrowly approved Clinton's request to release foreign aid for family planning programs by a 220 to 209 vote.

Although clearly a Clinton victory, the House quickly voted by a larger margin, 231 to 194, to approve separate legislation by Rep. Chris Smith to link funding with harsh Reagan-era restrictions on abortions.

Voting in favor of witholding abortion funding were 37 Democrats. Conservatives appeared to have won this test of strength, and may indeed have the votes to override a presidential veto.

Frank Riggs appealed for a return of "morality and religion"
Those early days of the 105th Congress were also marked by calls for the president and congress to work together, but conservative members of the House made it clear that the Clinton administration should be the one compromising on abortion issues.

Citing "Book of Virtues" author William Bennett, Rep. Frank Riggs (R- Scotia) appealed for a return of "morality and religion" to the political debate. "After all," Riggs argued, "they would argue you cannot legislate morality. In truth, however, the only thing that can be legislated is morality, for every legislative act is a moral judgment."

Another indicator of the new Congress' unwillingness to compromise may be found in statements read into the Congressional record on February 11. Noting that a local politician switched from Democrat to Republican, Rep. Bob Livingston (R - Louisiana) read a statement by the newly-converted mayor of Slidell, LA into the Congressional Record.

Debating (supposed) charges by women's advocates that "a fetus is not human," the mayor wrote,

By now, this is hardly worth the effort to refute it. On the basis of science, not religion, we know that from the moment of conception, the fetus has its own full set of chromosomes, an absolutely unique genetic pattern, and 100% of the material necessary to develop into a fully grown human being. The mother, who has already provided fifty percent (50%) of the building materials, now also provides a site and nourishment for the event. Nothing less but nothing more.

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Albion Monitor February 15, 1997 (

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