A second attempt to break a Senate filibuster against anti-abortion legislation failed by 15 votes yesterday, indicating that liberals may have the strength to prevent the 97th Congress from enacting new restrictions on the use of federal funds in this highly charged and controversial area.
Anti-abortion forces fared better than they had on the first vote last Thursday, but only because many of their supporters were present who had been previously absent. At the same time, such liberal stalwarts as Senate Minority Whip Alan Cranston (D-Calif.) and Sen. Bill Bradley (D-N.J.) were absent.
The roll-call vote was 45 to 35 for cloture, 15 short of the 60 required by Senate rules to cut off debate. The first vote on limiting debate was 41 to 47. Only one senator, John W. Warner (R-Va.), who had previously opposed limiting debate, switched sides.
All but four senators now have recorded positions on the move to invoke cloture. This means that in order to break the filibuster, anti-abortion forces, led by Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), must get these four votes and convert 11 other senators who oppose them.
Sen. Lowell P. Weicker Jr. (R-Conn.), a filibuster leader, said the tally indicates that liberals have abortion foes "on their own 10-yard line" and that it is "highly unlikely" that the Senate will invoke cloture. He pledged to continue the filibuster as long as necessary.
Helms, however, refused to concede defeat, saying "it's still a horse race."
A third attempt to break the filibuster is scheduled for Wednesday, and there is a possibility of a fourth try on Thursday.
"It's going to be close on Wednesday," Helms said in an interview. "We'll be above 50 votes if we don't win. It all depends on who is here to vote that day."
Helms repeated previous offers that he has made to simply bring anti-abortion and school prayer proposals he has authored to an up-or-down vote on the Senate floor.
"I'm willing to vote and put an end to all these cloture votes," he told the Senate in late afternoon.
Filibuster leaders have been unwilling to do this. Weicker said yesterday he will do anything possible to avoid direct votes on a series of conservative "social issues," including abortion and school prayer, because he fears the Senate might pass them.
"As a matter of tactics I don't want to see these social issues resolved in this Congress," he added. "These moral crusades tend to burn themselves out. That's what we've been on for two years, a moral crusade."
Meanwhile, pressure was building in the Senate to bring an end to the seven-day abortion filibuster.
Helms' proposals are attached to a debt ceiling bill that must pass Congress by Oct. 1 for the government to borrow money to stay in operation. Many senators also are eager to adjourn so they can devote full time to their reelection campaigns.
Senate Majority Leader Howard H. Baker Jr. (R-Tenn.) said yesterday that he wants the debt ceiling bill to be disposed of by the end of this week.
Helms' amendment would permanently prohibit use of federal funds for abortion and abortion research or training. It would also set up machinery for an expedited Supreme Court review of its 1973 decision legalizing abortion.
The amendment includes two controversial "findings of Congress," which do not have the force of law. A rider to the amendment would prohibit federal courts from overruling state laws that allow prayer in public schools, which the Supreme Court outlawed in 1962.
President Reagan launched an 11th-hour lobbying effort in behalf of Helms' anti-abortion proposal last week, but there was little evidence yesterday that his efforts changed any votes. Thirty-three Republicans voted to limit debate, 14 opposed the move. Democrats opposed the cloture move 21 to 12. Sens. Harry F. Byrd Jr. (Ind.-Va.), Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes (D-Md.) and Charles McC. Mathias Jr. (R-Md.) opposed cloture.