Aborted Revolution?

Article excerpt

SUE MYRICK SHOULD BE A symbol of a triumphant autumn for the anti-abortion movement. Next month the Republican from North Carolina's Ninth Congressional District will be one of 40 new House members--including six women--who oppose abortion. In the Senate, nine of 11 new members are also opponents of abortion. Not a single anti-abortion incumbent of either party was defeated by a pro-choice challenger. Although head counts vary depending on how the issue is defined, both houses are, at the most, a handful of votes away from anti-abortion majorities. But Myrick, 53, an advertising executive and the former mayor of Charlotte, says abortion policy is not a priority. "I don't see it as an issue," she said. "It was not an issue in the campaign. It was rarely even asked about." Republicans may be ascendant on Capitol Hill, but they've grown skittish about abortion. Several forces have combined to push the issue to the margins in the last two years: extremist rhetoric at the Republican National Convention in Houston; President Clinnton's appointment of Ruth Bader Ginsburg to the Supreme Court, strengthening the majority that upheld Roe v. Wade in 1992, and a series of violent attacks on abortion clinics and doctors. Republicans can also read polls. In one survey published by The Wall Street journal last month, just 18 percent of GOP voters cited abortion as the issue most important to them, behind taxes, crime, welfare and health care. Senior party leaders like National Chairman Haley Barbour and a group of pro-choice governors, including William Weld of Massachusetts, are trying to back the GOP away from abortion as a litmus test.

Abortion was scarcely visible in the 10-point "Contract With America" signed by Myrick and other Republican freshmen. The sole provision, a "gag rule" barring use of AFDC (Aid to Families with Dependent Children) funds for abortion counseling, was quickly soft-pedaled by Republican leaders. They are clearly eager to defer debates over social issues that could derail a consensus on the contract, which emphasizes tax cuts, spending reductions and welfare reform. "There's a realism among pro-life elected officials," says Republican strategist Bill Kristol, who has advised the party to IM its legislative ambitions on abortion. "Given the current composition of the court and the current administration (a pro-choice president), there are limits to what we can accomplish. No politician likes to expend a lot of effort when the barriers are, for the time being, insuperable." Activists are about the depth of the newcomers' convictions. "I think we're unsure how much stomach there is to revisit these issues," says an aide to Rep. …