Monday, August 13, 2001

Proposed laws affirm early life

GOP shifts tactics in abortion fight

By Derrick DePledge
Enquirer Washington Bureau

        WASHINGTON — Thwarted to date in their efforts in courts to abolish abortion, conservatives have sought — legislatively — to recognize human life in all its forms.

        Over the past few years, Republicans, working mostly in the House, have been behind a series of votes they hope eventually will undermine the legal and moral justifications for abortion.

        The strategy is to unravel the abortion-rights argument by forcing lawmakers into difficult votes.

        The House has voted to ban cloning human embryos for medical research, prevent the government from executing pregnant women and make it a separate crime to destroy a fetus during an attack on a pregnant woman.

        Patients' rights bills approved by the House and Senate this summer would expand the federal definition of human beings to cover newborns that, even temporarily, survive abortion procedures. A conference committee will attempt to resolve other differences between the two bills.

        “It's important that we protect innocent human life,” said Rep. Steve Chabot, a Cincinnati Republican who has been involved in much of the legislation.

        None of the protections specifically challenge Roe

        v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court decision that guarantees a woman's right to terminate a pregnancy. But if they eventually become law, the government would recognize life in the early stages of human development.

        Anti-abortion activists have no illusions the laws would prevent many abortions. Instead, the votes are intended to establish legal groundwork that might be used in the future to defend tougher restrictions on abortion.

        The Born-Alive Infants Protection Act, for example, would expand the federal definition of humans to include newborns delivered under any circumstances, including during abortion pro cedures. In rare cases, according to congressional testimony from nurses, women give birth during some late-term abortion procedures, and the newborns are left to die.

        The law would deal only with a federal definition, but Mr. Chabot and other conservatives presume that doctors would make the same attempt to provide medical care or comfort for newborns that survive abortion procedures, as they would any other newborn.

        “There should be basic human dignity given to these children,” he said. “You clearly couldn't just leave a baby on a sink and let him die.”

        The House overwhelmingly passed a similar bill last year. Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., added it as an amendment to patients' rights legislation in June, and it passed the Senate 98-0.

        The National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League had opposed the legislation last year but backed off after Republicans insisted it had nothing to do with abortion rights. Elizabeth Cavendish, the group's legal director, said the law is unnecessary because the law already recognizes newborns as human beings.

        Hadley Arkes, a professor of jurisprudence at Amherst College in Amherst, Mass., said abortion-rights groups are aware of the motivation of anti-abortion activists but have chosen not to get into a debate over whether newborns that temporarily survive abortions have a right to life.

        If these newborns have rights regardless of whether their mothers want to keep them, he said, it makes it easier to argue that fetuses also may have rights.

        “Give us that premise and we think we can unravel the whole (abortion rights) argument,” he said.

        Mr. Arkes said he was disappointed that Republican leaders decided to delete a set of findings from the bill that clearly explained its intent and rationale. Aides said some Republicans, hoping not to jeopardize an otherwise easy victory, wanted to avoid antagonizing lawmakers who favor abortion rights.

        “The debate is more important than the box score,” he said.


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