by Jan Erickson,
Government Relations Director
The past is repeating itself in Congress where yet another attempt is underway to outlaw an abortion procedure used in second and third trimesters of pregnancy. A bill, H.R. 1122, which is essentially the same bill passed by Congress and vetoed by President Clinton last year, was approved in the House of Representatives by a huge margin (295-136) in mid-March.
The legislation prohibits what the bill describes as the "partial-birth" abortion procedure, before and after fetal viability, and only allows an abortion to save the life of the woman under limited conditions when no other procedure can be used.
A more "moderate" bill sponsored by Reps. Jim Greenwood, R-Penn., and Steny Hoyer, D-Md., was defeated. It would have prohibited all abortions after fetal viability but would have allowed an abortion to protect a woman from "serious adverse" consequences to her health. It also stipulated civil, rather than criminal, penalties for doctors.
NOW opposed both bills and points out that defining "serious" health consequences is subjective and there are differences in medical interpretation of what constitutes viability.
In the Senate, Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Carol Moseley-Braun, D-Ill., have introduced a version of the Greenwood-Hoyer bill. As of early April, Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., and other moderates were said to be working on alternative language.
Whatever bill moves forward will likely pass the Senate but fail a veto override vote, if only by a thin margin. The number of abortion opponents in the Senate increased to at least 51 members after the 1996 elections so sustaining a presidential veto is not a certainty.
During the House debate, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., said the Senate vote would be delayed until there is enough support to override a presidential veto. An extensive advertising and lobbying campaign by abortion opponents, echoing last year's onslaught of thousands of priests and activists who were bused to the Capitol, is expected.
The only positive development in Congress concerning reproductive rights was the approval of President Clinton's recommendation to release the delayed $385 million for international family planning and population assistance programs in developing countries. The funding level represents a 35 percent reduction, which means many women's lives and health will be threatened by complications in pregnancy and childbirth, abortions will be required and maternal and infant mortality will rise as well.
Several law enforcement organizations and the National Rifle Association continue to push for legislation that would substantially weaken the domestic violence offender gun ban passed last year. Testimony has been heard on a couple of bills that would apply the ban only to those individuals convicted of a misdemeanor domestic violence offense after Sept. 30, 1996, or that would exempt government employees (police, military, and others).
The ban forbids anyone convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence or child abuse from having a firearm. The ban closes a large loophole since many domestic violence crimes are classified as misdemeanors, even though the offenses are as severe as felonies. Persons convicted of felony crimes are not permitted to purchase or possess firearms under the Gun Control Act of 1968.
Some police groups claim that implementing the new law is difficult and unfairly punishes officers who committed domestic violence offenses in the past, thus costing them their jobs if they cannot carry a weapon. Other police groups, like the National Black Police Association, support maintaining the ban. In a letter to Congress, NOW President Patricia Ireland pointed out that research shows a significantly higher rate of domestic violence among police officers than among the general population and emphasized that weakening the ban would threaten women's safety.
The heavy hand of the NRA was evident in helping to organize the repeal campaign. In February, the NRA website boasted that the repeal legislation was the first in a series to eliminate all gun controls.
"The NRA is using some law enforcement officials as decoys for promoting their anti-gun control agenda," said NOW Action Vice President Rosemary Dempsey. "But police departments in major cities like Baltimore and Chicago are enforcing the gun ban anyway, as part of full-scale programs to reduce domestic violence on the force and in their communities. Progressive police departments won't be fooled by the NRA's tricks."
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