Losing by winning Abortion: Republican focus on it could hurt party's economic agenda.

November 05, 1995

AFTER A DISTASTEFUL debate full of extremist rhetoric, the House of Representatives has voted to criminalize certain late-term abortions. The Republican right led the assault on a medical procedure (intact dilation and evacuation) that is rarely used. Only two American physicians are known to routinely perform it. All late-term abortions account for fewer than 1 percent of the total.

Those who insisted that it is important to outlaw them were exaggerating. In that sense those who opposed the House bill were also overly concerned -- except for this: It is just one more step toward encumbering abortion providers by federal fiat.

If this bill becomes law, physicians who have to perform late-term abortions of any kind will be looking over their shoulders, fearful of the zealots who are determined to interfere with all abortions by forcing doctors to prove they have not violated the law.

When a late-term abortion is necessary -- usually to protect the health or life of the mother -- a physician should not have to base his decision on how to proceed on the politics of the issue.

It is clear that the majority of Republicans believe the anti-abortion issue is a winner for their party. But some Republicans, like Rep. James Greenwood of Pennsylvania, don't think so. "It's a mistake politically," he said.

Why? It seems obvious that though most Americans support abortions with reasonable restrictions, the proposed House restriction is not reasonable. By pushing this legislation so stridently the Republican Party risks turning off independent-minded, moderate voters who might support a different approach to reducing the number of late-term abortions.

The party also risks losing its focus on the most important elements of its agenda -- tax cuts, reduced spending, balancing the budget, the return of responsibility to the states. Surely Republican senators will treat this legislation with more decorum, less enthusiasm and a better sense of politics in the broadest sense than their House colleagues did.

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