Win on Abortion Gives Bush Boost
GEORGE BUSH bowed to the far right. Tom Foley tried to twist the arm of the conservative left. Bush won.In a high-profile showdown this week that underscored the politically and socially volatile nature of the abortion issue, Congress sustained President Bush's veto of a bill that would have supported abortion counseling at federally funded clinics. "Of the abortion-related issues before Congress, this one has the most widespread support," says Thomas Mann, director of Governmental Studies at the Brookings Institution, about the so-called "gag rule." But, he adds, "the intensity remains with the pro-life side." The bill, a $205 billion appropriations package for the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, contained language that would have blocked a rule barring family planning clinics that receive Title X funding to discuss abortion with patients. The legislation funds every major health and welfare program in the country. The House vote was 276 to 156, 12 votes shy of the two-thirds needed to override. President Reagan had originally announced the regulations banning such counseling in 1988, but the issue was stalled by a court challenge that reached the Supreme Court in May. In Rust v. Sullivan, the high court ruled that the federal government may restrict federally funded clinics from discussing abortion with patients. Both President Bush and Speaker Foley took risks: Bush by backing the far right on an issue that had wide public opposition; Foley by publicly predicting he had the votes to hand the president his first override in 24 vetos. FOLEY'S defeat gives Bush a boost at a time when he is being criticized for his handling of domestic and economic issues, but the question still remains which side will be more affected during the election year. The vote "defines the differences" between the Republicans and the Democrats, says Rep. John Porter (R) of Illinois, a principle supporter of delaying the counseling ban. Abortion, he says "is very much back on the political playing field. This vote leaves no room for negotiating the issue. The president and the Republican Party have lost." Rachel Pine, lead counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union in the Rust v. Sullivan case, agrees. "There is such strong support for the notion of free speech and fair medical care," she says. "This is primarily a free-speech issue, but politically an abortion issue. The Reagan judiciary and the White House are out of step. How far right is the Republican party willing to go?" But Mr. Mann offers a different view. Supporting the ban "hurts less than the pain inflicted by opposing the pro-life side," he says. "Bush's immediate concern is the right flank. "I doubt if the Democrats have much to go with. They don't seem interested in pursuing the problems confronting the poor" rather than the interests of the middle class, he adds. Mann says that if abortion becomes a major campaign issue, it will happen when there is a challenge to Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision legalizing the procedure. Regardless of the political impact, the social impact of the vote was felt almost immediately. Officials for Planned Parenthood say clinics across the country now must decide whether to comply with the counseling regulations or forfeit federal funding. The 172 Planned Parenthood affiliates receive $37 million a year in federal funds for its family planning program and the organization requires chapters to provide abortion counseling. Some clinics will begin charging fees to the low-income women they serve. Others, in New Mexico and Ohio, for example, are already preparing for the likelihood that they will have to close their doors.