Struggles over Abortion Loom for Next Year Health-Care Reform Is Likely to Force Decision on Funding

Article excerpt

THE ELECTION of President Bill Clinton and a record number of new female lawmakers last year was supposed to usher in an unprecedented time of abortion rights advocacy.

But when Congress adjourned for the year, legislation to penalize abortion clinic protests was still pending, the much-heralded Freedom of Choice Act was on the shelf, and the mother of all abortion battles loomed as health care reform moved to the top of the agenda.

"I guess we're going to have to wait until the end of next year before we can really assess the situation," said Rep. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, co-chairwoman of the Congressional Caucus on Women's Issues. "It's sort of a mixed record for women and abortion right now."

For Rep. Henry J. Hyde, R-Ill., the House's most passionate opponent of abortion rights, this year has been "far better than we anticipated. I couldn't be more pleased.

"We've lost a few, but we've won big. The victory on the Hyde Amendment virtually stopped the Freedom of Choice Act in its tracks," he said.

Women's advocates do point to some successes:

Shortly after taking office, President Clinton abolished the so-called "gag rule," an executive order preventing workers at clinics that receive federal funds from telling clients that abortion is a legal option to end a pregnancy.

Congress overturned a ban on fetal tissue research, which had gotten caught up in the battle over abortion.

Congress lifted a longstanding ban against using locally generated tax revenue to pay for abortions in Washington, D.C.

In addition, women legislators saw passage of a handful of other measures that had dominated their time and energy for years. Those items include the Family and Medical Leave Act, creation of an Office of Women's Health in the National Institute of Health, and increased funding for breast and ovarian cancer research.

"Nobody could know how much time we spent on these bills, and now we don't have to fight for them anymore," said Rep. …


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