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Jewish Pro-choice Groups Find Abortion Battles Are Not over

When President Clinton came into office in January as the first pro-choice president in years, many in the Jewish community who had long supported abortion rights were thrilled.

And when Clinton, in his first week in office, threw out many Reagan-Bush era laws restricting abortions in various circumstances, there were outpourings of joy from these Jewish abortion-rights advocates.

With the exception of some Orthodox groups, much of the organized Jewish world has taken a strong stand in favor of a woman’s right to choose abortion to end a pregnancy.

But now these Jewish organizational officials are finding that, even with a pro-choice president in the White House, not all the abortion battles are going their way.

At the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, members of Congress are continuing to enact laws that concern Jewish officials.

Recently, both houses of Congress voted to retain the so-called Hyde Amendment, allowing federal funding of abortions for poor women only in the case of rape or incest.

The amendment is one of the longtime pet hates of the pro-choice movement.

The National Council of Jewish Women, a group that has been in the forefront of Jewish pro-choice activism, released a statement following the recent Senate passage of the Hyde Amendment, calling the 59-40 vote “a grave injustice to women on Medicaid.”

Adoption of the Hyde Amendment was “a significant loss,” said Mark Pelavin, Washington representative for the American Jewish Congress, another pro-choice group actively lobbying members of Congress.

BIGGEST ABORTION BATTLE YET TO COME

“When Clinton was first elected, there was a tendency to be complacent,” said Sammie Moshenberg, NCJW’s Washington representative.

But pro-choice forces soon “discovered that it was still an uphill battle. It was a help to have a friend in the White House, but you’re still dealing with Congress” which reflects a variety of opinions on the abortion issue, Moshenberg added.

However, both Pelavin and Moshenberg pointed out that Congress has passed some pro-choice measures this session, reversing years of legislation restricting abortion.

For example, Congress recently approved legislation lifting a 10-year ban on federal workers ability to choose insurance programs that include abortion coverage.

And both houses of Congress approved a conference bill last week overturning a longtime ban on the District of Columbia’s ability to use its own funds to pay for Medicaid abortions.

The Senate and House of Representatives are scheduled to vote shortly on the conference report.

Still, pro-choice Jewish organizational officials say they are not relaxing their lobbying efforts.

They point out that one of the biggest abortion battles — on abortion’s inclusion in the Clinton health care reform package — is looming just around the corner.

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