President Reagan, responding to the Supreme Court's reaffirmation of legalized abortion, said in a statement released by the White House yesterday that he shares "profound disappointment" over the decision with millions of abortion opponents and that Congress, not the court, should handle the issue.
Reagan returned to the topic at a fund-raising dinner for Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) last night, saying that the conservative North Carolinian would receive a lot of credit "when two blessed days arrive: the day when we welcome the Lord back into America's classrooms and the day when we protect the life of the unborn child."
The president has said he favors passage of constitutional amendments stating that abortion is not a constitutional right and prohibiting an abortion unless the woman's life is in danger. White House aides say Reagan does not plan to offer any anti-abortion legislation of his own but is supporting proposals now in Congress.
"Our society is confronted with a great moral issue, the taking of the life of an unborn child," Reagan said in his statement. "Accordingly, I join millions of Americans expressing profound disappointment at the decisions announced by the Supreme Court in striking down several efforts by states and localities to control the circumstances under which abortion may be performed."
Reagan then turned to the minority opinion, written by Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and joined in by justices William H. Rehnquist and Byron R. White.
Citing the dissenting opinion, the president said that "the legislature is the appropriate forum for resolving these issues. The issue of abortion must be resolved by our democratic process. Once again, I call on the Congress to make its voice heard against abortion on demand, and to restore legal protections for the unborn, whether by statute or constitutional amendment."
Two major anti-abortion proposals have failed to pass Congress since Reagan became president.
The 6-to-3 court decision Wednesday struck down laws in Ohio and Missouri that required that abortions after the first trimester of pregnancy be performed in hospitals rather than clinics. The court said the government cannot interfere with a woman's "fundamental right" to have an abortion in any place or manner unless the decision is based on "accepted medical practice."
Reagan's statement followed a spate of angry reaction to the court's decision from conservatives. Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) called the decision an "abomination" and Sen. Roger W. Jepsen (R-Iowa) said the justices were "completely out of their jurisdiction."
At a news conference yesterday, Nannette Falkenberg, executive director of the National Abortion Rights Action League, said groups supporting legalized abortion will concentrate on opposing an amendment by Hatch--that the Constitution does not guarantee the right to an abortion--expected to come to the Senate floor before July 4.
"We are not unprepared," she said. "Our sense is that we will defeat the Hatch amendment and that we will defeat it soundly."
At the fund-raising dinner for Helms last night, Reagan celebrated the senator as a conservative hero, a "lonely crusader" who fought "during those first lonely years to protect our liberties, preserve our family values."
Reagan said that Helms understood the fight against communism and the importance of the U.S. effort in Central America, where "either we pay a small price now . . . or we listen to the do-nothings and risk an explosion of violence and millions of refugees on our doorstep later on."
Reagan told the senator, who is expected to have a difficult reelection campaign, "Well, Jesse, we want you to know the reinforcements are here, the cavalry is ready and we intend to march with you until victory is yours on Election Day, 1984."