President Reagan is calling for a full discussion of legislative proposals to outlaw abortion, saying that the time has come for urgent consideration of what he described as a "national tragedy."
But in his strongly worded speech taped for antiabortion groups attending the National Right to Life Conference in New Jersey last week, Reagan did not indicate which of three measures he favors. This was interpreted by the antiabortion organizations to mean that he favored all of them.
Reagan's videotape was shown to reporters here yesterday. In it, Reagan said that the country's 1.5 million abortions a year are "an assault on the sacredness of human life."
"The time has come," he added, "for Congress to face the national tragedy of abortion, to fully discuss and debate on the House and Senate floors the heartbreaking dimensions of this tragedy." Reagan went on to name each of three proposals now on Capitol Hill.
"We welcome the president's active support and we think it is clearly the only factor that will break this roadblock," said Rosemary Meyer, a lawyer from Arizona and president of the National Committee for a Human Life Amendment.
The three proposals include the constitutional amendment proposed by Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), which would overturn the Supreme Court's 1973 ruling that legalized abortion. Hatch's proposal would give jurisdiction over abortion to the states, except when congressional legislation is more restrictive.
The proposal is believed to have little chance of success because it requires a two-thirds majority. Only a simple majority is required for the other two measures--the Human Life Amendment Bill, proposed by Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), which would define and protect the fetus from conception, and the Federal Abortion Funding Restrictions Bill, proposed by Sen. Mark O. Hatfield (R-Ore.), which would end federal fianancing of abortions.
After months of internal division, the antiabortion groups said yesterday they supported all three measures. Father Edward Bryce of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops said that his colleagues still favored the Hatch amendment; he called for it to be scheduled for immediate discussion.
Dr. John Willke, president of the National Right to Life Committee, welcomed Reagan's commitment but warned that in the "unlikely event" all three proposals failed, the administration would suffer at the polls in November.
Nanette Falkenberg, executive director of the National Abortion Rights Action League, said she believed that the president had paid only "lip-service" to the abortion opponents and had made no outright commitment.
"We agree that a full debate of the issues is needed, especially on the Hatfield amendment, which has never been discussed," she said. NARAL, the political arm of the pro-abortion movement, is concerned that the Hatfield amendment would allow a Supreme Court more conservative than in 1973 to decide the abortion issue all over again.