Wednesday March 9 2005
Abortion foes' win in Congress may be a harbinger
Vote would let protesters file for bankruptcy as way to avoid penalties
By DAVID ESPO
WASHINGTON - Abortion rights forces lost their first test of the new
Congress on Tuesday, a skirmish over the rights of protesters in bankruptcy
court, in a vote that reflected last fall's election results and portended
fiercer battles ahead.
"Clearly, with the freshman class that came in this year you gained a number
of pro-life votes," said Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, one of seven
conservative Republicans who won their seats last fall. "I think the culture
of the Senate has changed on that issue to the right."
Douglas Johnson of the National Right to Life Committee declared that the
shift amounted to three seats.
Democrats and their allies, girding for a possible Supreme Court nomination
fight later this year, disagreed only with the estimated size of the shift.
"We're seeing a net gain of two anti-choice votes in the Senate, for a split
of 51-49," said Vicki Saporta, president of the National Abortion Federation.
"Both houses have an anti-choice majority. You have an anti-choice White
House," she said. "So it's very difficult for us to be able to prevail on
issues pertaining to upholding a woman's right to choose."
Lawmakers on both sides of the issue cautioned against reading too much into
Tuesday's 53-46 vote, on which the Senate said it would not deny abortion
protesters the chance to use bankruptcy proceedings to avoid payment of
court fines or penalties. Supporters said their proposal applied only to
violent protests; opponents said individuals participating in peaceful
protests could also be affected.
Democrats had tried to attach the amendment to a major bankruptcy measure.
GOP leaders were able to minimize defections by stressing an overriding goal
of clearing bankruptcy legislation that can win swift passage in the House,
where abortion opposition is stronger than in the Senate.
At the same time, some Democratic abortion opponents supported the proposal,
Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, the party leader, among them. "I want to
emphasize that this amendment is not about the right to abortion," he said.
"It applies to any extremist who turns to violence to protest lawful
Overall, Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., the author of the defeated proposal,
said the vote showed that the current Congress is "less friendly to
pro-choice than last Congress."