Anti-Abortion Groups Condemn Bill Barring Clinic Blockades
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Anti-abortion groups say court challenges are likely against congressionally approved legislation forbidding blockades, violence or threats against abortion clinics.
The Senate gave final legislative approval on Thursday to the measure, which abortion rights activists have sought in response to more than 1,000 violent incidents at clinics since 1977. The bill, which President Clinton is expected to sign quickly, would take effect as soon as he signs it.
The legislation approved Thursday makes it a federal crime to block access to an abortion clinic or to use force or threats against people using such facilities or working there.
As the Senate voted, shouting matches erupted in a House subcommittee debating two abortion-related amendments to a modified Clinton health reform bill.
At one point, Rep. Dick Armey, R-Texas, said, ″Are we going to be so ‘fem- centric’ that we’re going to condone the self-indulgent conduct of the body of a woman who has already demonstrated in most cases they were damned careless with it in the first place?″
And in a bitter exchange over an amendment that would have banned abortion from a basic benefits package to be guaranteed to all Americans, Rep. Jolene Unsoeld, D-Wash., said to her male colleagues, ″I think the women of this country are being tolerant enough to allow you men to vote on this because you obviously don’t understand.″
The Senate sent Clinton the clinic access measure on a 69-30 vote. Fifty- two Democrats and 17 Republicans voted for it, while three Democrats and 27 Republicans voted no. The House approved the measure last week on a 241-174 roll call.
Judie Brown, president of the anti-abortion American Life League based in Stafford, Va., said Clinton was supporting the bill ″in an unabashed campaign to appease the radical abortion-on-demand minority.″
She said that the day he signs it, ″American Life League will be in court seeking an injunction to prevent the new law from going into effect.″
Jay Sekulow, chief counsel for the anti-abortion American Center for Law and Justice in Virginia Beach, Va., also said a legal challenge was likely on the grounds of free speech violations.
″This measure goes beyond the issue of violence,″ said Sekulow, whose group represents Operation Rescue, which blockades abortion clinics. ″This legislation crushes the free speech rights of pro-life demonstrators.″
Supporters said the issue had less to do with free speech than with the physical protection of the people who use and work in abortion clinics.
They said that since 1977, there have been at least 36 bombings, 81 cases of arson, 131 death threats, 84 assaults, two kidnappings - and the killing of Dr. David Gunn, who performed abortions in Florida.
″The anti-abortion terrorists must now answer to federal law,″ said Eleanor Smeal, president of the Fund for the Feminist Majority.
Opponents countered that such violent acts are rare and are already crimes.
The legislation, they said, is an attempt by liberals to thwart just one side in the emotional debate over abortion. They noted that there are no similar federal constraints against protests involving labor unions, environmentalists or animal rights supporters.
Lawmakers began work on the bill after a January 1993 Supreme Court decision that states could not use an 1871 civil rights law, aimed originally at the Ku Klux Klan, to halt anti-abortion protests. The use of that law was successfully challenged by Operation Rescue.
Under the legislation approved Thursday, violent offenders would face up to $100,000 in fines and a year in prison for a first conviction and up to $250,000 in fines and three years in prison for subsequent offenses.
Nonviolent offenders could receive up to six months in prison and a $10,000 fine for a first conviction, and 18 months and $25,000 in fines for additional offenses.
The legislation applies the same prohibitions and penalties to people blocking access to places of worship.
In the House Education and Labor Committee’s labor-management relations subcommittee, which was debating health reform, both abortion-related amendments were voted down.
The amendment by Rep. Ron Klink, D-Pa., which would have excluded abortion from the basic benefits package, was voted down 16-11. And the panel voted 14-11 to defeat an amendment by Armey designed to ensure the health bill would not overrule constitutionally sanctioned state restrictions on abortion.