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House GOP Begins Campaign For New Abortion Restrictions

By Juliet Eilperin

House Republicans, now with an ally in the White House, on Thursday opened a coordinated campaign for new restrictions on abortion, starting with a bill that would impose penalties on people who harm a fetus during an assault on a pregnant woman.

As a House panel began work on the proposal making it a federal crime to injure or kill a fetus during an attack, abortion foes and supporters alike said the bill signaled the beginning of an effort to capitalize on President Bush’s election and enact legislation stymied by former President Clinton.

Bush has already pleased abortion opponents by cutting off family planning funds to international groups that provide abortion referrals and by appointing conservative John Ashcroft as attorney general. Now, lawmakers say, in the coming months they will seek incremental restrictions on abortion while averting a direct confrontation over women’s constitutional rights to obtain the procedure.

The measures include a ban on a controversial procedure opponents refer to as “partial birth” abortion, a restriction prohibiting anyone but a parent from transporting a minor across state lines to have an abortion, and limitations on who can administer mifepristone, an abortion pill previously known as RU-486 approved by the Food and Drug Administration shortly before Clinton left office.

Absent the threat of a presidential veto, abortion opponents say they’ll also try to add abortion language to spending bills, such as possibly imposing parental consent requirements on family planning funds and eliminating contraception coverage for federal employees.

“There’s some significant opportunity to complete some issues where not only members of Congress, but the majority of people in the country, are on the same side,” said Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), a member of the GOP leadership. “This is another one of those issues where the House is likely to set the agenda. I think the Senate will respond.”

Passage of anti-abortion legislation is assured in the House, which approved many of the measures in the last Congress. Supporters hope that by moving early on a number of proposals, they can influence debate in the Senate, which traditionally has been less receptive to bills restricting abortion access.

“The landscape is full of landmines now that are potentially quite lethal in terms of a woman’s right to choose,” said Kate Michelman, president of the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights League. “The Senate remains our firewall, if there’s a firewall in this.”

Senate Minority Leader Thomas Daschle (D-S.D.), who has voted for a ban on “partial birth” abortion, said Democrats “will have to take them one step at a time. We see this not as an abortion issue but as a women’s rights issue.”