THEY ARE ALL BLACK, all poor, all pregnant and all are residents of Washington. All of them came into the Hillcrest Clinic on Pennsylvania Avenue SE this week to have abortions, and all of them, if the House of Representatives has its way, would be forced to carry their pregnancies to term, or be forced somehow to find money to privately finance their abortions.
tConsider the women involved: There was the 35-year-old mother of six who thought she had been sterilized but found herself pregnant; there was the 18-year-old mental patient; the mother of two toddlers who went off the birth control pill temporarily while hospitalized for a kidney infection; the mother of two who got pregnant between the time she decided to be sterilized and the time set for the procedure; the 25-year-old mother of three, whose youngest child is handicapped, and who skipped the pill on occasion because of severe headaches; a rape victim; and a 13-year-old who did not know she was pregnant and who clutched her teddy bear on the abortion table.
None of these women wanted to be pregnant. Most cannot afford mentally, economically or physically to raise another child. Back in August 1977 when congress decided to cut off Medicaid funds for abortions for these women, elected city officials decided to provide local funds for abortions to poor women. As a result, almost 6,000 indigent women received publicly financed abortions in the year that followed.
This week 217 members of Congress voted to attach an amendment to the District of Columbia appropriations bill forbidding the city from spending any more public money on abortions. The language in the bill is that of the strictest anti-abortionists, permitting funding for abortions only when the life of the mother is endangered.
The D.C. bill was an easy mark. The victims are poor women, women who don't vote for these congressmen. It was an easy way of throwing a vote the way of the antiabortion fanatics on the Hill who are seizing every legislative opportunity to impose their will on others.
The antiabortionists are willing to hold significant legislation such as the Health, Education and Welfare bills and the D.C. appropriations bill and other measures hostage to a single issue they consider non-negotiable. They feel no obligation to seek out a national consensus on a complicated, enduring question. These are people who wrap themselves up in sanctimonious rhetoric about the value of human life and threaten the political futures of those who defy them.
Rep. Robert Bauman, the Eastern Shore conservative, defended his actions on the D.C. bill this way: "I don't feel at all uncomfortable (as a national lawmaker) if I can save a life by preventing abortions - the District of Columbia is still part of the United States."
Karen Mulhauser, executive director of the National Abortion Rights Action League, a leading pro-choice lobbying organization, says Congress has taken to viewing the abortion issue as something of a nuisance. It is the kind of issue that has put Congressmen on the spot at different times and to get on with the business of government some Congressmen have given in to whatever compromise they could find.
"What they don't seem to understand," she says, "is that the e is no way they're going to be able to do enough to satisfy the antiabortion people. They want to outlaw all abortions and they're not going to be happy with a senator who wants to cut off funding. They're going to keep badgering them until they introduce a constitutional amendment to outlaw abortions. Take Frank Church. the certainly isn't pro-choice, but because he doesn't support the constitutional amendment, they've put him on their hit list for the 1980 election."
Mulhauser says Congress is not responding to the economic arguments rationalizing abortions or to the public opinion polls. "They're responding politically, and we feel at this point, they're responding to a climate that's been created by antiabortion efforts and the misperception of politicians of the antiabortion movement."
The facts are on her side. The House quite perfunctorily attached strict antiabortion language to the HEW and Labor appropriations bills this June.It declined to debate the merits of amendments that would have expanded Medicaid coverage to abortions in the case of deformed or genetically diseased fetuses, for example. The House voted this way despite the fact that both the Harris and Gallup polls show a majority of Americans support some legalized abortions.
And the antiabortion forces, as Mulhauser says, aren't going to compromise. Rep. Robert Dornan, (R-Calif.), who sponsored the amendment to the D.C. appropriations bill, says he is going to tack on similar language to the Defense Department appropriation this session, making it illegal for Defense dollars to be spent on abortions for military dependents, except where the life of the mother is endangered.
Next year, he's going to devote his energies to the Treasury Department appropriations which contains health insurance funding that pays for abortions for members of Congress, their dependents and staffs. "If you believe killing innocent life in the womb is is just that, then who cares whether it's available to the wealthy, the poor, the upper class.
"If Elizabeth Ray had gotten pregnant, the American taxpayers would have paid for an abortion," says Dornan. And he speaks of the hypocrisy of a situation in which "Congressmen and our staffs are being allowed to get abortions under federal health plans while we cut it off for the poor." He would have done something about this sooner, he says, but did not become aware of it until this year.
"I don't want to hurt anyone's political career over this," he says, adding that the pro-choice forces have to realize that the momentum is in the direction of pro-life. They're going to have to stop the battle and let us get the federal government out of the grisly business of abortions at all levels."
Dornan says he and his allies on the Hill won't be satisfied until there is a constitutional amendment banning abortions except when the life of the mother is endangered. "I'll never run from this fight," he says. "What else is more important than human life?"
Dornan talks a tough, intimidating game. A majority of the House has chosen to buckle under to the tactics of the antiabortion forces instead of isolating them as medieval fanatics. But Dornan is on the record as saying he and his allies aren't going to compromise.
This time, the victims of this legislative cave-in are the poor women of Washington. They were an easy target. Next year, the target is women on the Hill.
Maybe when the problem comes uptown, members of Congress will give it more thought.