NEWS STORY: GOP sets pre-election votes on abortion issues

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c. 1998 Religion News Service

WASHINGTON _ The Republican-led Congress, playing to its core religious conservative constituency as the midterm election draws closer, is once again making abortion a top priority.

As the House reconvenes this week, it will vote _ perhaps as early as Wednesday _ on a measure that would make it a federal crime to take a pregnant teenager across state lines for an abortion if it would violate the girl’s home state parental notification or consent laws.

The bill, a key item on the agendas of the National Right to Life Committee and religious rights organizations, is only one of the abortion issues on the congressional front burner.

Later in the month, the House will vote whether to override President Clinton’s veto of a bill banning a controversial late-term abortion procedure opponents call”partial-birth abortion.”The Senate is expected to take action in the fall.

At the end of June, the House voted to bar use of taxpayer dollars to test, develop or approve drugs that induce abortion such as the French abortion pill RU-486, and the issue is now headed to the Senate. The Congress also will soon confront a promised Clinton veto of a United Nations funding bill that bans giving U.S. money to overseas family planning groups that lobby for liberalized abortion laws and that Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has termed a”gag”rule. “The social and religious conservatives who favor the right-to-life position are an important part of the Republican base when they are motivated and activated,” said David Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union.

“The leadership in the House has been taking steps to make sure that portion of the electorate does a good job for them this fall, and that means bringing up hot button issues like abortion,” said Keene.

Mark Mellman, a Democratic pollster, noted that Gary Bauer of the Family Research Council and James Dobson of Focus on the Family along with the Christian Coalition, have told GOP leaders to press their social issues agenda or face open rebellion from the religious right.

Mellman said this explains the emphasis on issues like school vouchers, flag burning, religious freedom and abortion as well as recent attacks on gays by House and Senate leaders.

“The religious right has a lot of influence in the Republican Party, and they signaled they shouldn’t be taken for granted,” said Mellman.

The measures currently on the legislative agenda are part of a long-term strategy to chip away at the right to abortion guaranteed 25 years ago by the Supreme Court.

An important element has been passage of laws in 29 states requiring parental consent or notification before a minor can get an abortion. Abortion opponents feel these state requirements are being undermined when a minor can go to a nearby state that does not have such a law.

“If someone opens up a Pennsylvania telephone book, the first few Yellow Pages contain advertisements for New Jersey abortion mills offering children abortions with `no parental consent,”’ said Rep. Christopher Smith, R-N.J. “The abortion industry is circumventing states’ laws. It is time to put a stop to this practice.”

Unlike Pennsylvania, New Jersey does not have a parental consent or parental notification law.

A survey taken for the National Conference of Catholic Bishops and released last Thursday (July 9) showed 85 percent of those polled agreed a minor should not be taken across state lines for an abortion without her parents’ knowledge.

The bill before the House would impose a prison sentence of up to one year and fines and civil liability up to $100,000 for anyone who transports a minor across state lines for an abortion as a way of avoiding her state’s parental consent and notification laws.

Maggie Constan of Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan New Jersey described the legislation, known as the Child Custody Protection Act, as the “Teenage Endangerment Act.”

“It tells the teen: Do it on your own, don’t get any help,” said Constan. “It doesn’t do anybody any good. It is totally harassing.”

The week after this bill is considered, the House will vote whether to override Clinton’s veto of the legislation banning late-term abortions.

Clinton has twice vetoed this legislation, most recently in October. The Congress has been waiting for election time to draw near and for more senators to come on board before considering the override.

Douglas Johnson, legislative director for the National Right to Life Committee, said there are sufficient votes in the House but three votes are needed in the Senate to get the two-thirds necessary for an override.

“It’s an uphill struggle from our standpoint, and we want to use all the time we have to eke out a victory,” Johnson said.

Twenty-five states have passed late-term abortion bans modeled on the federal bill. Many of these state laws have been blocked by the courts pending further review.

Another fight headed for the Senate involves the House-passed amendment to an agriculture appropriations bill preventing the Food and Drug Administration from spending any money to approve abortion-inducing drugs like RU-486.

The FDA declared RU-486 safe and effective in 1996, but it needs additional information on its manufacture and labeling before considering final approval.

DEA END COHEN

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