Although much public attention on the abortion debate has been focused on the Supreme Court this spring, the battle over abortion has been continuing on a variety of other fronts as well.


As it has for the past four years, the abortion issue may once again be the stumbling block for bills reauthorizing Title X and Title XX, the government’s family-planning and teenage-pregnancy programs. The National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) testified against program revisions sponsored by Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), saying the changes would promote abortion through school-based health clinics and the research and development of abortion-causing drugs and devices.

Also working its way through Congress is a proposal to repeal the 1984 “Mexico City Policy,” which prohibits U.S. foreign aid to organizations that promote liberalized abortion laws worldwide. Planned Parenthood has launched a massive media and lobbying campaign to see the policy overturned. In addition, Planned Parenthood and other advocates of abortion are urging Congress to reinstate funds to the United Nations Fund for Population Activites (UNFPA). The U.S. cut off the aid in 1985, under the Kemp/Kasten Amendment, because of UNFPA’s support of China’s compulsory abortion policy.

Another congressional debate is shaping up over federal funding of abortions in the District of Columbia. Congress eliminated those funds last year after years of stiff lobbying from both sides of the issue.

The NRLC’s Douglas Johnson noted that key congressional committee changes, along with a new administration, have opened the way for challenges to the prolife “baseline” established by Congress during the Reagan administration. “Right now it’s a new deck of cards, and [the proabortion members of Congress] are going to push forward and see what is nailed down and what isn’t,” Johnson said. “We are in kind of a defensive mode for the months immediately ahead with respect to Congress.”

Meanwhile, a group of 50 prolife Democratic members of Congress has attacked the party’s “politically wrongheaded” support of abortion and asked new Democratic National Committee (DNC) chairman Ron Brown to lead the party in changing that position. Led by Rep. John LaFalce (D-N.Y.), the Democrats said their party’s “morally indefensible” abortion position was instrumental in “the last three presidential defeats.”

The 1988 Democratic party platform supports tax-funded abortions and a woman’s right to “reproductive choice,” and Brown told an April news conference he would “stand by” that position.

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The “Abortion Pill”

On another prolife front, controversy over the RU 486 abortion pill has continued since its approval in France last fall (CT, Dec. 9, 1988, p. 58). In February, officials of Hoechst AG—the German corporation that owns majority stock in the manufacturer of RU 486—promised the International Right to Life Federation that the drug “will not be marketed outside of France.” However, Moral Majority president Jerry Nims said concerns that the company would renege on that promise prompted his organization, Operation Rescue, and others to begin negotiations with Hoechst AG.

Nims said he has received in writing three commitments from Hoechst AG: RU 486 will not be marketed or distributed outside of France; current clinical tests of the drug will be completed in a year with no new trials being started; and the drug will not be offered to the World Health Organization for other medical applications.

“If they abrogate their agreement, … then we’ll have to hold this company directly responsible,” Nims said, noting that Hoechst AG does billions of dollars of business in the U.S.

Fetal-Tissue Research

One of the “byproducts” of the abortion industry is the tissue harvested from aborted fetuses, and a National Institutes of Health advisory committee has formally recommended that the federal government lift a ban on this practice in medical research. In April 1988, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) imposed the ban while the government task force studied the use of fetuses obtained from induced abortions in transplant research (CT, May 13, 1988, p. 39). Some studies suggested that fetal tissue may be helpful in the treatment of some illnesses, including Parkinson’s disease. However, prolife groups oppose the practice. Before the ban can be lifted, the advisory committee recommendation must be approved by HHS officials and perhaps the White House.

Counseling And Consent

Last month, a federal appeals court in Massachusetts ruled that regulations prohibiting federally funded family-planning clinics from counseling on abortion are unconstitutional. The First U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a permanent injunction against the rules, which were announced by President Reagan in 1987 and scheduled to take effect last year (CT, April 8, 1988, p. 51).

The appellate court said the regulations went “beyond a mere refusal to fund and [have] interfered with the decisional process by dictating what information a woman may receive and by intruding into her relationship with her physician.” Additional legal cases against the regulations are being fought in several other states as well.

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And in another abortion-related case, a U.S. District Court in Florida ruled last month that a law requiring pregnant minors to obtain consent from a parent or a judge before having an abortion was “constitutionally infirm.” The court said the law was unconstitutionally vague and did not protect the privacy of pregnant teenagers guaranteed by Roe v. Wade. “The decision to terminate the pregnancy is up to [the girl] and her physician without state regulation,” the court said.

Sex-Selection Abortions

Some prolife groups are worried that would-be parents may be misusing prenatal testing to determine the sex of their fetus, then choosing to abort if it is not a boy. The Washington-based Family Research Council (FRC) has asked the U.S. Justice Department and other federal agencies to investigate the practice of sex-selection abortions in the United States for possible civil rights violations.

In letters to Attorney General Dick Thornburgh and HHS Secretary Louis Sullivan, FRC president Gary Bauer said his group views abortion as a violation of the fundamental rights of the child. “As we also believe that the deliberate targeting of females for nonbirth constitutes legally cognizable sex discrimination under existing law, we wish to take every step possible to bring this practice to an end,” he added. The FRC has asked the National Organization for Women to join the campaign. So far it has not.

Operation Rescue

Meanwhile, Operation Rescue officials say their movement continues to gain momentum across the country. “Things are really beginning to accelerate,” said Barbara Magera, press secretary for the group. According to Magera, 64 cities participated in the National Day of Rescue on April 26—compared to the 32 cities that participated in October. Numerous “rescues” were conducted on Mother’s Day around the country as well. Magera said her group has documented that between May 1988 and May 1989, “224 babies were saved by the rescue movement.”

As of last month, Operation Rescue was involved in 15 lawsuits because of the rescues. However, Magera said this has not caused a new financial burden on the organization because it is refusing to pay all fines and court-imposed penalties. He said it is paying attorneys’ fees; however, much of the legal representation is being done pro bono.

By Kim A. Lawton.

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