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Abortion Restrictions to Come under Legislative Attack

By Timothy M. Phelps


A majority of Americans, when asked, say they support Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court abortion decision that has led to virtual guerrilla warfare over the meaning of life.

But an even larger majority of Americans say in poll after poll that they endorse a different Supreme Court decision last year that upheld Roe but also upheld the states' right to place restrictions on abortion.

That consensus, the product of 20 years of legal wrangles and the anguish of three essentially anti-abortion Supreme Court justices, is about to be challenged by the Clinton administration and the Democratic leadership in Congress.

The attack on abortion restrictions is being pressed simultaneously on several fronts. Legislation to make abortion a federal right, beyond the reach of the Supreme Court or the states, is already winding its way through the House and Senate. So is another bill to make blockades of abortion clinics a federal crime.

The Clinton administration also has served notice that it will attempt to eliminate the congressional prohibition of federal financing of abortions for poor women and is expected to include coverage for abortion in its national health care proposals due in May. At the same time it has decided to allow abortions to be performed in military hospitals and to fund international population planning groups that support abortions.

Some congressional moderates on the abortion issue fear the proposals may go further than what Congress and the American people will support. Yet compromise may be difficult to achieve, because some abortion rights groups, including the National Organization for Women and the American Civil Liberties Union, have said they will oppose the legislation if it contains any restrictions designed to appease moderates.

Freshman Rep. Rick A. Lazio, (R-N.Y.), is typical of an emerging group of Congress members who call themselves abortion rights supporters but back some restrictions. Congressional staffs say this group is critical to passage of the abortion rights program.

"The purists' argument is: Why compromise? Let's fight the fight; let's fight for unrestricted abortions," Lazio said. "I don't believe that's what the American people want or the vast majority of people who believe in choice want."

Lazio opposes federal funding of abortions for poor women except in cases of rape, incest or danger to the life of the mother. He supports the proposal to put the right to an abortion in federal law, but believes the states should be allowed to require a minor to notify a parent before obtaining an abortion and to require that a woman wait 24 hours after scheduling an abortion and receiving information about alternatives.