(Reposted from www.kansascity.com
as it's registration-only)
Posted on Mon, Nov. 15, 2004
Conditions seem right for a fight on abortion
By MATT STEARNS The Star's Washington correspondent
WASHINGTON — The Arlen Specter imbroglio is just the beginning.
Specter, the Pennsylvania Republican in line to lead the Senate Judiciary
Committee, came under withering attack from conservatives after he questioned
whether the Senate would confirm an appointment to the Supreme Court who
would overturn Roe v. Wade.
With a larger Republican majority in the U.S. Senate, a social conservative
movement emboldened by electoral success, and the likelihood of Supreme
Court vacancies, both sides in the abortion issue see the coming year
Besides the conflict over Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that legalized
abortion nationwide, other abortion-related items could be contentious.
Two bills in Congress designed to chip away at abortion rights are expected
to gain support, joining last year's ban on so-called partial-birth abortions.
Proponents of abortion rights, meantime, see a woman's right to choose
in its greatest peril. NARAL Pro-Choice America already has a 30-second
television ad ready to run when a Supreme Court vacancy occurs. The commercial
issues a dire warning of what women might lose if the Roe decision is
“If you could see the threat coming last year, the battle has moved
from the horizon to the foreground,” said David Seldin, communications
director for NARAL Pro-Choice America.
Fifty-five Republicans will be in the Senate next year instead of the
current 51, making it easier for the majority to get the 60 votes necessary
under Senate rules to break impasses.
“The Senate is often our problem, and we're looking better in the
Senate,” said Mary Kay Culp, executive director of Kansans for Life.
Among the new senators are intense abortion opponents. Seldin noted, for
example, that incoming Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn has advocated the death
penalty for doctors who perform abortions.
The biggest confrontations will be over judicial appointments, especially
if an opening occurs on the Supreme Court.
With Chief Justice William Rehnquist, 80, suffering from an aggressive
form of cancer, and other justices said to be considering retirement,
most expect President Bush could pick two to four justices in his second
term — potentially enough to overturn Roe.
The issue's high-stakes nature already is on display, as Specter deals
with the aftermath of his postelection comments.
Conservative interest groups have asked Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist
to prevent Specter from taking over the committee. Specter has backed
off his comments, but his status as chairman-in-waiting remains uncertain.
A coalition of conservative groups is organizing an anti-Specter protest
this week in Washington.
Sen. Sam Brownback, an ardent abortion opponent, said he had not taken
a position on Specter's ascension.
Brownback, a Republican from Kansas, said he was surprised that the Specter
matter was the biggest issue from his constituents since the election.
He said people were even talking about it at his daughter's volleyball
Bush has said he would not have a litmus test on abortion for Supreme
In the second presidential debate, however, Bush said he would not appoint
a justice who would condone the Dred Scott decision, an 1857 case that
Abortion opponents have long equated Dred Scott and Roe v. Wade. President
Reagan wrote in 1983 that like Roe v. Wade, Dred Scott “denied the
value of certain human lives.”
Appellate court appointments, several of which were blocked by Democrats
in the 108th Congress, also are seen as an important battleground because
appellate decisions are often the last word on many cases and because
these courts are often a training ground for future Supreme Court justices.
Besides the judiciary, the 109th Congress also is expected to see more
action on legislation to limit access to abortions.
Last year, Brownback introduced the Unborn Child Pain Awareness Act. It
would require that any woman considering an abortion be told that her
fetus might feel pain during the procedure and that an anesthetic be offered
for the fetus if the woman is 20 weeks or more pregnant.
The bill was referred to committee, and no action was taken. Brownback
said he would re-introduce it next year.
Another bill introduced last year, known as the Child Custody Protection
Act, would make it illegal to take a pregnant minor across state lines
for an abortion to circumvent state parental-notification laws.
That bill, too, was referred to committee with no further action taken.
“I think we've got a good shot at moving both bills through,”
Sen. Jim Talent, who co-sponsored both bills in the 108th Congress, said
he hoped the bills would come up again next year.
“I think they're good proposals with broad support,” the Missouri
Republican said. “I'm not sure the majority leader is going to want
to spend a lot of time” on abortion-related legislation, given that
so many top Bush administration priorities seemed likely to finally move
forward, such as the energy bill and tort reform.
Others, however, said that because the GOP owed so much to evangelical
Christians, the administration and Senate leaders might want to bring
up the bills.
Any legislation would likely wind up in the courts, as the “partial-birth”
abortion ban has, thus highlighting for both sides the importance of judicial
“If you listed the top 10 threats in the Senate this year to a woman's
right to choose, Nos. 1 through 10 would be debate over Supreme Court
nominees,” Seldin said. “That is the whole ball of wax.”
Agreed Brownback: “Judges are the key issue.”
To reach Matt Stearns, call (202) 383-6009 or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Possible Supreme Court vacancies and a larger Republican majority
in the U.S. Senate are two reasons the abortion issue will be a hot topic