PINELLAS PARK, Fla. – The bitter feud over Terri Schiavo's (search) fate has made its way to Congress, an answer to pleas from the brain-damaged woman's parents to have her feeding tube reinserted. Schiavo had depended on the feeding tube for the past 15 years before it was removed Friday afternoon.
Congressional leaders from both parties hoped an agreement reached on a bill would allow the tube to be restored while federal courts review her case. The House and Senate were expected to take up the legislation by Sunday or early Monday. If passed, President Bush planned to sign it.
"Everyone recognizes that time is important here. This is about defending life," White House press secretary Scott McClellan (search) said in Texas, where the president planned an early return to Washington to be able to sign the bill as soon as possible.
The development was the latest in a contentious right-to-die battle between Schiavo's parents, Bob and Mary Schindler (search), and her husband, Michael Schiavo, over whether she should be permitted to die or kept alive by the feeding tube.
Passage of the measure would require the presence of only a handful of lawmakers. Opposition waned after House leaders agreed to give up broader legislation and accept a narrowly crafted bill that applied only to Schiavo's case. The Senate convened briefly Saturday evening to give formal permission for the House to meet Sunday, when it otherwise would be adjourned for spring recess.
Terri Schiavo's feeding tube was removed Friday on a Florida judge's order. As supporters maintained a vigil outside her hospice, Schiavo's mother pleaded for the 41-year-old woman's life.
"We laugh together, we cry together, we smile together, we talk together," Mary Schindler told reporters Saturday. "Please, please, please save my little girl."
Schiavo could linger for one or two weeks if the tube is not reinserted — as has happened twice before. Doctors say she is in a persistent vegetative state (search) with no hope of recovery. Her husband has insisted she never wanted to live in such a condition.
Earlier Saturday, Michael Schiavo criticized House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, who helped broker the congressional compromise.
"He's sitting up there saying that Terri wants to live. How does he know? Has he ever met her? No. He hasn't met me," Schiavo said on NBC's "Today" show.
But Bob Schindler praised Saturday's deal after talking with supporters.
"We're elated primarily that they put politics to one side and they're concentrating on the issue of saving Terri's life," he said.
The bill would effectively take Schiavo's fate out of Florida state courts, and allow Schiavo's parents to take their case to a federal judge. DeLay, R-Texas, said that would likely mean restoration of the feeding tube "for as long as this appeal endures."
Rep. Robert Wexler, D-Fla., issued a statement late Saturday saying he will make an objection that would stop the vote Sunday. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., said he was trying to gather enough votes to defeat the bill Monday.
"This bill would have the federal government intrude into the most private, personal and painful family decision," Blumenauer said.
Meanwhile, emotions swelled as lawmakers took on the matter. Four people, including right wing leader James Gordon "Bo" Gritz, were arrested Saturday on trespassing charges when they attempted to bring Schiavo bread and water.
A spokesman for Schiavo's parents, Paul O'Donnell, later told reporters that they do not want supporters to engage in civil disobedience on their daughter's behalf.
"The family is asking that the protests remain peaceful," said O'Donnell, a Roman Catholic Franciscan monk.
A small group of supporters was congregated outside the hospice. New protest signs were put up Sunday saying "Save Terri Schiavo From State-Sponsored Murder!" and "Free Terri, jail the rest."
Guabe Garcia Jones, an attorney from Washington, said he's been on a hunger strike since the tube was pulled Friday, only drinking water for the roughly two days he has spent in a tent outside the hospice.
Early Sunday, less than a dozen supporters were still congregated outside the hospice. Some gathered in a circle of lawn chairs around a single candle, while others took to sleeping bags.
Some people have camped out for days, like Terry Butts, a medical assistant and mother of two teenagers.
"I've worked in the nursing field over 20 years, and never seen a tube come out without a living will," she said. "It's not supposed to happen."
Terri Schiavo suffered severe brain damage in 1990 when her heart stopped briefly because of a chemical imbalance. She can breathe on her own, but has relied on the feeding tube to keep her alive.
In 2001, Schiavo went without food and water for two days before a judge ordered the tube reinserted. When the tube was removed in October 2003, Gov. Jeb Bush pushed through "Terri's Law," and six days later the tube was reinserted. The Florida Supreme Court ruled in September 2004 that Bush had overstepped his authority, declaring the law unconstitutional.