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Bill Would Write Roe Decision Into Law

November 18, 1989|From Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Abortion-rights supporters in Congress, setting the stage for a political fight next year, announced their intention Friday to push a bill that would write into law the 1973 Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion.

The bill they introduced would, in effect, overcome the Supreme Court's decision last summer in the so-called Webster case that gave states greater authority to impose restrictions on abortions, supporters said.

The bill, just a few lines long, would forbid states to restrict a woman's right to have an abortion before the time that her fetus becomes viable, or at any time when necessary to protect the life or health of the mother.

Sponsors said their aim was to take the fight over rights to abortions away from state legislatures, allowing them to impose only those restrictions that are medically necessary to protect the life or health of the mother.

Although no action was expected until next year, abortion rights backers said that the bill would become the central focus of future congressional and political debate on the abortion issue.

A result, they said, would be to thrust the abortion issue even further into the politics of the 1990 House and Senate races.

"This bill is the moral equivalent for women of the 1964 Civil Rights Act," Rep. Les AuCoin (D-Ore.) said.

A leader of the abortion opponents, Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-N. J.), said he welcomed the bill because it would bring a full debate on abortion. He said he was confident that the House would defeat it.

The House bill had 88 sponsors, and a version introduced in the Senate carried 19 sponsors.

The bill was aimed at writing into law the landmark 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision establishing a woman's right to an abortion and at reversing the Webster case. Abortion-rights supporters contend that the Webster decision eroded rights established 16 years earlier and that it signaled a possible further erosion.

Abortion-rights supporters in the Senate on Thursday ended their efforts to overcome President Bush's veto of a bill that would extend Medicaid abortions to women who are victims of rape or incest. The House and Senate agreed to provisions keeping the current prohibition on federal payment for abortions except in cases when the life of the mother is endangered.

Both sides were also watching to see whether Bush would sign or veto a spending bill for the District of Columbia. He vetoed an earlier version because it permitted federal financing of abortions in cases of rape, incest or danger to the life of the mother.

Congress passed a new version that prohibits use of federal funds except to save the mother's life but permits the city to use its own funds for other abortions.

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