WASHINGTON – Anti-abortion activists marking this week's 30th anniversary of the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision say they have their first chance in years to put a dent in abortion rights now that Republicans control the House, Senate and the White House.
"We will pass the first significant pro-life legislation actually limiting abortions in 30 years," said Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan. and a leading abortion foe. He predicted Congress will move quickly to pass a measure banning a late-term abortion procedure called partial birth abortion by opponents.
Congress passed a measure twice, in 1996 and 1997, banning the procedure, in which the fetus is partially delivered before its skull is punctured. President Clinton vetoed it each time. The House passed the measure again last year, but the then-Democratic-controlled Senate never took up the measure.
"We will pass a partial birth abortion ban," Brownback said. "That's going to hearten people. It's been a long fight. We're finally turning some of the battle."
President Bush has said he would sign the bill, one of several abortion-related measures Republicans will push this legislative session. Their optimism is expected to be apparent Wednesday when thousands of marchers converge on Washington to mark the anniversary of the Supreme Court's decision three decades ago legalizing abortion.
"I think we'll hear a great deal of hyperbole about Roe being at risk from the abortion side. I hope they're right," said Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J. "From our side, we're going to assert even more, with compassion but with earnestness, that the Holocaust of the unborn has to stop."
But Douglas Johnson, legislative director for the National Right to Life Committee, said passing anti-abortion bills will continue to be difficult in the 100-member Senate, where 60 votes are needed to overcome parliamentary tactics for blocking action on most bills. The Senate has 51 Republicans, 48 Democrats and one independent.
"This is not a Senate that's going to be approving sweeping legislation to challenge Roe," Johnson said. "It is a Congress now in which we have a chance for a fair debate on these sorts of reforms that are supported by most Americans."
Abortion-rights supporters, who also have a series of events planned for the anniversary, acknowledge that the advantage in Congress has switched to abortion foes. "The Republicans are controlling every branch of government, and we have now entered the anti-choice trifecta," said Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y.
Maloney and others pointed to a series of actions Bush has taken administratively, including an executive order that bars U.S. aid to international groups that support abortion and withholding $34 million from international family planning programs overseas.
The administration announced last year it would begin classifying developing fetuses as unborn children as a way of extending prenatal care to low-income pregnant women. Abortion rights activists denounced the move as a backdoor way of undercutting their rights. And two weeks ago Bush declared Sunday as National Sanctity of Human Life Day.
"This administration and the anti-choice members of Congress are weaving a pernicious web of anti-choice attacks," said Gloria Feldt, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.