Jewish Groups Lobby on the Hill to Overturn Abortion ‘gag Rule’

Jewish groups joined an ecumenical coalition of abortion rights forces Thursday on Capitol Hill to lobby for swift adoption of legislation that would overturn a regulation barring federally funded clinics from advising women about abortion options.

The U.S. Supreme Court recently upheld the constitutionality of the federal regulation, prompting opponents to seek a legislative remedy.

The Senate on Wednesday approved a bill barring enforcement of the 1988 regulation. The House of Representatives took similar action earlier this month, but the language was included in a completely unrelated bill, complicating reconciliation of the two versions.

Ann Lewis, chairwoman of the American Jewish Congress Commission on Women’s Equality, said she and fellow activists lobbied senators to approve the language as part of the 1992 Health and Human Services Appropriations Bill. The bill is expected to reach the Senate floor next week.

The House earlier approved that language in its version of the appropriations bill. The Senate vote Wednesday was on a free-standing bill that would be legislatively impossible to combine with the House bill.

The biggest substantive issue Lewis raised was contradictory language in the Senate bill dealing with the family notification required of pregnant minors seeking abortions.

An amendment sponsored by Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell (D-Maine), which Jewish groups back, would require pregnant girls under age 18 to consult with health-care or social workers before having abortions.

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But another amendment to the same bill, sponsored by Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.), would require pregnant minors to notify a parent and then wait at least 48 hours before having an abortion.

Lewis does not like the Coats language, because it “punishes those kids brought into the wrong family to begin with” by requiring them to talk with their parents before having an abortion, she said.

“It makes those kids’ lives more difficult and dangerous,” she argued.

Other Jewish groups that joined the ecumenical coalition included the National Council of Jewish Women, the National Federation of Temple Sisterhoods and the Union of American Hebrew Congregations.

The groups are not expected to lobby President Bush, who has threatened to veto any legislation to overturn what has come to be called the “gag rule.”

Instead, much of that work will be done by moderate Republicans, including those in the medical community, “who were appalled at this decision,” said Lewis.

Lewis predicted that a veto by Bush would “further heighten the stakes” in the battle over whether to confirm federal appellate Judge Clarence Thomas as an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Lewis said that many members of Congress are upset with the court’s current composition, as evidenced in its vote to uphold the ban on abortion counseling.

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