Once more the abortion issue has reached an impasse of confusion. First the executive branch issues regulations which in effect impose an abortion-counseling gag rule on public health clinics. Congress responds by passing a bill, by substantial majorities in both houses, overturning the gag rule. President Bush responds by vetoing the legislation. Congress fails, by 12 votes, to override the veto. Meanwhile states from Maryland on the East Coast to Washington on the West Coast are embroiled in rancorous controversy over state policy with regard to abortion.
So we have the sorry spectacle of lawmakers representing 65 percent of the American people in favor of extending abortion counseling to women who use federally funded health clinics, and the president adamantly maintaining the gag rule. Meanwhile, people within the clinics openly talk of defiance.
How much longer must we remain mired in this impasse? As matters now stand, there it will continue until the American people recognize that they cannot have it both ways.
As a way out, we make this proposal:
Let Congress consider a clean, no-strings-attached bill which would codify Roe vs. Wade as the law of the land, applicable in all states. Let each of the 535 members of the House and Senate state unequivocally his or her position on abortion rights, then cast a roll-call vote.
Based on recent votes on abortion issues, including the one on the gag rule, it is reasonable to assume that the bill would pass. It is more certain that President Bush would veto the bill. Finally, it is virtually certain that the veto would be sustained.
So, one may ask, what would be accomplished? Simply this: The president and every member of Congress would be firmly on record as favoring or opposing abortion as a legislated right, not one based on an increasingly shaky decision of the Supreme Court. This would permit voters in the 1992 elections to choose their president and congressional representatives on the basis of unambiguous positions on abortion rights.
There is no assurance, of course, that the voters would not re-elect a president and a Congress still hopelessly at odds on the intractable issue. But at least the option would be there to resolve this impasse once and for all, on a national basis.