MANEUVERING in Congress over "partial-birth" abortions represents the most successful strategy against legalized abortion in some time. Only a Clinton veto kept a law banning the procedure from going into effect last year. This year, the House has passed the measure with a veto-proof majority, while the Senate appears ready to do likewise, though without a wide enough margin to withstand a veto.
So supporters of the measure are not pleased with Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle's proposal for an alternate approach that is attractive to many senators who generally favor abortion rights. Rather than addressing a specific abortion technique, the Daschle bill would outlaw post-viability abortions, with a narrow exception geared to physical injury.
Mr. Daschle's approach may seem to offer a better fit with Supreme Court rulings -- except for its overly narrow health exception and encroachment on state's rights. But while Roe vs. Wade recognized a valid state interest in restricting access to late-term abortions, it gives the right to impose those restrictions to the states, not to Congress. Were Congress to pass such a measure, the Supreme Court would have to determine the federal government's role.
The Daschle bill has attracted White House interest. But it has much ground to make up to overtake the "partial-birth" legislation, despite worries that "partial-birth" could be construed so broadly that it covers not just later-term abortions but also techniques used much earlier in pregnancy. Still, supporters are not concerned with precision. Their goal is to prevent as many abortions as possible.
Most Americans do not support late-term abortions -- and the laws of 40 states and the District of Columbia reflect that fact. In 1992, Marylanders resoundingly expressed their satisfaction with the compromise embodied in Roe vs. Wade by passing a referendum guaranteeing access to abortion early in pregnancy, but outlawing abortions after the point at which a fetus can live outside the womb.
Like many other states, Maryland's law also contains an exception to protect a woman's physical or mental health -- a provision that the anti-abortion movement claims is too broad. They prefer virtually no exceptions, but it is doubtful that most Americans agree. Abortion laws are not perfect but, like Maryland, many states are working out their own consensus. They don't need a grandstanding Congress to do it for them.
Pub Date: 5/15/97