US Free-Religion Bill Hits Abortion Snag

Article excerpt

A YEAR ago this week the United States Supreme Court astounded many lawyers and religious groups by weakening substantially the protection that the US Constitution affords to the free exercise of religion.

A year later a coalition of religious and civil-liberties groups is trying to get Congress to overturn the court ruling. But this year the effort by this Coalition for the Free Exercise of Religion is threatened by a controversy over abortion.

As a result, whether Congress will approve the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, expected to be reintroduced shortly, may be in question.

For 27 years until last April's court decision, government had been required to prove a "compelling" reason before impeding the free exercise of religion, a protection rooted in the First Amendment to the Constitution.

In last year's ruling the court majority said that such a strict standard of protection was a "luxury" that the US no longer could afford when it sought to act in a way that would affect religious practices.

Last year's prime congressional sponsors of the bill intended to overturn this ruling reflected a broad political spectrum, both liberal and conservative.

But this year key congressional conservatives - including Rep. Henry Hyde (R) of Illinois, a principal sponsor of last year's proposal - are having second thoughts as a result of opposition by the influential National Right to Life Committee and some other anti-abortion organizations.

These organizations want the bill amended so that it cannot ever be used as a legal basis for permitting abortions. Representative Hyde is among members believed to be insisting on a satisfactory amendment before they support the bill this year.

THIS week both conservatives outside Congress and Rep. Stephen Solarz (D) of New York, one of last year's prime House sponsors, are trying to draft one or more compromises that all sides can support. Already there have been "many attempts to solve" the abortion issue, says one informed source, so far without success. …

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