Pro-life grass roots movement shows surprising strength in Congress

By Pat Trueman, Legal Counsel AFA, Washington, D.C.

September 1993 – President Clinton’s all-out assault on unborn life is faltering. If pro-life pressure keeps up, it will collapse all together. The President’s influence on Congress is still considerable  despite his precipitous drop in the polls, yet, in promoting abortion, he doesn’t have the grass roots support to match that of pro-life forces fighting against him.

Mr. Clinton must rely on organizations like the National Organization for Women, The American Civil Liberties Union, and People for The American Way (what a whopper of a misnomer) to help him win in Congress. But these pro-abortion forces can generate little in the way of organized grass roots support—such as letters and phone calls to Congress—on abortion legislation. In contrast, right to life organizations know how to turn up the heat in our nation’s capitol. One out of every three letters received in some U.S. Congressional offices urges the member to vote pro-life. Christian radio stations as well as churches and synagogues which hold human life as a sacred creation of God, have also generated substantial grass roots support.

Hyde Amendment
Pro-life strength was demonstrated in the recent victory in the U.S. House of Representatives on the Hyde Amendment prohibiting federal funding of abortions. Prior to the vote the outcome was thought by many to be too close to call. The abortion forces were clearly expecting to win. Yet the pro-life side, led by Illinois Congressman Henry Hyde, a moral giant in the Congress—one of the very few—won by a lopsided 256 to 171. The New York Times, in an analysis of the Hyde Amendment battle said that pro-life forces looked effective and made the other side look naive, unprepared and inept. The article concluded, “That combination will give uncertain lawmakers one more reason to move toward the anti-abortion side. Nobody likes swimming to a ship that, if not sinking, seems at least becalmed.”

A leader of the abortion movement in the U. S. House, Eleanor Holmes Norton of the District of Columbia, said after the vote, “I really don’t know where we go from here.... I think it’s time for the women’s movement to regroup.” Another, Congressman Bill Richardson of New Mexico said,  “The main message is that the women’s groups have to get out to the grass roots. They will do that now like never before due to their surprise defeat in the House of Representatives.

The Hyde Amendment battle has shifted to the Senate, where there is worry that pro-life grass roots lobbying has lessened since the victory in the House at the same time abortion groups are pouring everything they have into a battle to defeat the bill. The strategy of the pro-abortion side is to get the Senate to expand the Hyde Amendment, to allow funding for abortions which in the opinion of the abortionists are necessary for the “health” of the mother. The word “health” defined in court cases is so expansive that an abortionist would be reimbursed for any abortion which in his opinion would make the woman feel better, physically or mentally. Thus, the Hyde Amendment would be gutted if pro-abortion groups succeed in their strategy. A vote is expected in mid-September.

Freedom of Choice Act
The Freedom of Choice Act, which would knock down any meaningful state abortion regulation, is in deep trouble in both houses of Congress. Pro-life forces are unified in their opposition to FOCA while the abortion groups are fighting among themselves on how far the bill should go in erasing state legislation. Some want all meaningful state abortion restrictions stricken by FOCA and others would compromise and agree to a weakened FOCA, allowing, for instance, state laws that require a physician to perform the abortion, and others that require parental consent or notice before a minor’s abortion. The Speaker of the House, Thomas Foley of Washington has announced that he may not let FOCA be voted on because of this disagreement. Thus, abortion groups may yet succeed in killing FOCA.

In the Senate there is a belief that pro-FOCA senators don’t have the 60 votes necessary to end a filibuster, which is sure to take place on this bill. Every senator has been inundated with letters and calls generated by the pro-life movement, and not without effect.

Abortion Clinic Access
The Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, is a clear attempt by its chief senate sponsor, Sen. Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts, and the abortion movement to settle the abortion debate in this country by destroying the First Amendment rights of those who demonstrate against the destruction of life at abortion clinics. The bill makes it a federal crime to engage in the kind of non-violent civil disobedience that the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. participated in during the civil rights struggle in the 1960s. It also gives anyone seeking abortions or an abortion clinic employee a right to sue in federal court those who participate in demonstrations. The abortion side believes that few will risk a federal civil suit to express their views on abortion at a clinic. Defense against such a suit can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and take years to resolve.

Many constitutional problems may exist in the bill which is not moving forward in either house at this time. If it passes, the pro-life movement will look to the courts for help.

President Clinton’s ultimate abortion-related goal is to have abortion included in his national health care legislation, which a task force chaired by Hillary Rodham Clinton is drafting. If agreed to by Congress, this would greatly expand the number of Americans who would have insurance covering abortions and, undoubtedly, greatly increase the number of abortions. Early on Mr. Clinton said abortion would be included in his plan. If pro-life grass roots forces can continue flexing its considerable muscle, this may be just one more broken promise of President Clinton.  undefined