Another Round on Abortion

July 06, 1993

Anyone who expected the election of a pro-choice administration to resolve the abortion debate got a strong dose of reality therapy last week when the House voted to continue the Hyde Amendment banning the use of federal dollars for Medicaid abortions.

For 16 years, the federal government has perpetrated a two-tier standard, telling women they can have an abortion only if they are not poor enough to require taxpayer assistance. But casting this as a taxpayer issue is misleading. The employer-provided insurance policies that pay for most abortions receive federal tax subsidies.

This newspaper has always maintained that abortions should remain safe and legal, and that with good family planning policies they can become rare. But we strongly believe a double standard -- allowing women to choose abortion if they can afford it, while telling poor women they have to bear a child -- is shameful. Abortion always represents a tragic dilemma. But the government should not be in the business of making these intimate decisions, either by dictates or by dollars.

Perhaps the nastiest but most revealing part of the House's chaotic abortion debate came when Rep. Henry Hyde, author and champion of the amendment, suggested that abortion rights advocates were perpetrating a version of genocide. He said: "We tell poor women, 'You can't have a job, you can't have a good education, you can't have a decent place to live. I'll tell you what we'll do. We'll give you a free abortion because there are too many of you people and we want to kinda refine, refine the breed.' " That remark brought instant denunciations from black women lawmakers, and justly so. It suggests that poor women have no minds of their own and, since they cannot be trusted with a choice, we should make sure they don't have one.

It's worth noting that of the 98 House Democrats who voted in favor of the ban, 94 are male and 91 of those are white males. That breakdown suggests this particular vote may not be as representative of public sentiment as abortion foes hope.

Some people suggest it bodes ill for the Clinton health care plan, which will include coverage of abortion. But that battle will have a different cast, since eliminating abortion from the package would entail revoking coverage for women who now have it, not restoring a benefit that has been missing for most of a generation.

We suspect the Hyde vote represents more of a warning for the pending Freedom of Choice Act designed to guarantee in law the rights enshrined in Roe vs. Wade. But on another abortion issue, clinic access laws, abortion opponents may be facing a threat from their own allies. Operation Rescue has targeted seven cities for its summer offensive. If these efforts resemble some of that group's past forays, Congress may be more receptive to these bills than their proponents ever dared hope.

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