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Inside Politics

An assault on Roe?

Opponents take incremental steps against abortion

By Douglas Waller

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The incremental approach seems to be working for foes of abortion.

Following passage last October of a ban on what critics call partial-birth abortion, the Senate last week voted, 61 to 38, to make it a crime to injure or kill a fetus when a pregnant woman is attacked in a federal crime.

The House, spurred by the killing of Laci Peterson and her unborn son in California more than a year ago, passed the measure in February, and President Bush has promised to sign it.

Supporters deny it is linked to abortion, pointing out that 29 states already have unborn-victim laws. "This bill is about simple justice," said Republican Senator Mike DeWine.

But pro-choice advocates fear that treating an unborn fetus as a person in such crimes will lead to treating a fetus the same way in cases of abortion.

The pro-life forces are "chipping away at Roe v. Wade and women's rights to privacy and freedom of choice," says Kate Michelman, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America.

Where will the next battles be? Pro-life groups are pressing for a federal law that would make it a crime to take a minor across state lines for an abortion in a state that doesn't require parental notification.

The House has passed the bill; the Senate has yet to take it up. Though a majority of Senators oppose banning abortions, "a sizable number" will consider such measures "on a case-by-case basis," says Douglas Johnson, legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee.

Pro-choice groups are pushing for a law that would ensure the privacy of medical records at abortion clinics.

The Justice Department demanded in February (before backing off) that half a dozen such clinics turn over patients' medical records so they could be used to defend the new partial-birth abortion law from a suit filed by a group of doctors.

Still, for pro-choice groups, the logical next step is a big one: to mobilize their members behind John Kerry, who, if elected, would appoint Supreme Court Justices committed to upholding Roe v. Wade.

Copyright © 2004 Time Inc.

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