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House Sustains Veto of Abortion Funding Bill : Congress: Effort to override action to bar Medicaid money for rape and incest victims falls 51 votes short.


WASHINGTON — The House on Wednesday easily sustained President Bush's veto of a bill that would have allowed government-paid abortions for poor women who are victims of rape or incest but Bush critics in both parties predicted that the veto would be a politically costly victory.

Supporters of the bill to finance abortions in cases involving rape or incest fell 51 votes short of the two-thirds majority needed to override. However, they out-polled Bush's supporters, 231 to 191, and said that the public mood is shifting in their direction.

The President's supporters, however, defended the veto on grounds that the legislation would have "opened the floodgates to abortion on demand" and declared that upholding the veto by such a large margin was a big victory for the White House.

The failed veto override attempt came two weeks after the House had voted, 216 to 206, to go along with a Senate-approved provision permitting Medicaid funding of abortions in rape and incest cases. Currently, abortions for poor women are funded only if the life of the mother is endangered.

"This vote will galvanize America's pro-choice majority and help identify political targets in 1990 and 1992," said Kate Michelman, executive director of the National Abortion Rights Action League. "Today's vote leaves no doubt about who the most extremist members of Congress are."

Forty-two Republicans joined 189 Democrats in trying to override Bush's veto, while 59 Democrats and 132 Republicans voted to uphold the President on the highly emotional issue.

Anti-abortion forces lost several backers after a stormy debate centering on Bush's decision to reject a $156.7-billion spending bill for labor, health and education programs because it included the provision expanding abortion funding.

The fate of the legislation providing funds for such popular programs as Head Start, AIDS research and treatment, job training, veterans' employment benefits and mental health programs remained uncertain.

It is possible a new bill--with or without the abortion provision--will be attached to a catch-all spending measure that is expected to be passed by Congress by mid-November, according to Rep. William H. Natcher (D-Ky.), chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee that handles the legislation.

Natcher said that never before had he voted for any measure to legalize abortion during his 36-year career in Congress, but urged his colleagues to override the veto, saying: "I like George Bush, but he's wrong this time."

Not all of the President's foes were so charitable. His veto was called "a sellout to the extreme right," by Rep. Les AuCoin (D-Ore.), who said the President was telling poor women to "Just say no" to rape and incest.

AuCoin's strident language brought a reprimand from the presiding officer, Rep. William J. Hughes (D-N.J.), who cautioned that remarks reflecting on the President's integrity would be ruled out of order.

Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-N.J.) called it a decisive victory for the anti-abortion movement and said the true mood of the electorate was shown in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, which Tuesday approved new restrictions on abortion.

Rep. Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.), a leader of the anti-abortion bloc, said the debate was not about politics, but morality. "The debate is about forcing taxpayers to pay for the extermination of an unborn child," he said. "There is nothing poorer than an unborn child."

While a rapist faces a maximum 20-year prison term, Hyde added, the child of the rapist would be executed under the provision that triggered Bush's veto.

"This is a principled President. Support the President--vote for life," Hyde concluded.

Rep. Silvio O. Conte (R-Mass.), who also supported Bush's side, said the issue was painful and difficult, but complained about "a lot of demagoguery" in the debate.

"This is a good bill but it's embroiled in a needless controversy," Conte complained.

The confrontation between the President and Congress sharpened the debate and the post-mortems on the meaning of the vote.

A liberal Republican, Rep. Bill Green of New York, said he was concerned that Bush's stand would alienate younger GOP voters.

"I fear that President Bush may have stumbled on the one issue that could cost him the election in 1992," Green told reporters.

AuCoin said the vote showed the President to be out of step with a majority of the American electorate, adding: "Why anyone in the White House thinks that's smart politics is beyond me. . . . The President will put his party at tremendous risk in the next election."

A Bush supporter, Rep. Vin Weber (R-Minn.), said the limited issue of abortions for poor women in rape and incest cases had put anti-abortion forces in a difficult tactical position but that they do not suffer diminishing support for their position.

Rep. Charles Pashayan Jr. (R-Fresno), voted to override the veto even though he has always opposed federal payment for abortions in rape and incest cases in the past.

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