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America again a player in population issues: fund abortion alternatives, experts say.

Fund abortion alternatives, experts say

WASHINGTON -- President Clinton last week swiftly moved the United States onto the world stage on population growth -- an issue it had avoided for a dozen years.

While the new president clearly put himself at odds with the Vatican and U.S. church hierarchy in issuing executive orders lifting abortion-related restrictions on federal funding, he shifted what had been a deadlocked issue--pro-choice or pro-life--toward what some see as the more pressing one of caring for children already alive in a world that seemingly cannot sustain them.

Clinton's statement, echoing what he said in the campaign, was: "Our vision should be of an America where abortion is safe and legal and rare."

The only way to get to that point, many politicians and health experts say, is through full funding of family-planning programs, including health care, education and alternatives to abortion.

"Now we can get on with the business of making family planning available to the millions of those who can't get it and get the world on the road to population stabilization," said Sharon L. Camp, senior vice president of Population Action International.

On the 20th anniversary of the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision, Jan. 22, a red flag to thousands who marched against abortion that day, Clinton:

* Lifted the so-called "gag rule" on abortion counseling at federally funded clinics in the United States.

* Ended restrictions on U.S. aid to international family-planning programs in countries that provide abortion-related services. This had essentially eliminated the U.S. role in worldwide population-control efforts.

* Lifted a federal ban on medical research involving fetal tissue.

* Returned to overseas U.S. military hospitals the right to perform abortions as long as they are paid for with private funds.

* And ordered a review of restrictions on the importation of RU-486, the French abortion pill.

Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles, head of pro-life activities for the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, said Clinton's actions will serve only to "galvanize" abortion opponents. The Vatican said Clinton had "embarked on the paths of death and violence against innocent beings." Countered Frances Kissling of Catholics for a Free Choice, while each of the Clinton decisions was at the margins of the abortion debate, they may "have a profound effect on individual people and their health."

In Congress, meanwhile, which has agonized over abortion for decades, the rhetoric seemed to have suddenly cooled. Yet, observers expect heated debates over each one of these issues in the coming months.

Clinton supporters are expected to attempt to cement the directives into law -- rather than leave questions like fetal-tissue research to the whim of presidents. Opponents will try just as hard to block the president legislatively.

But the votes, analysts now say, especially in a new, more feminist Congress, clearly favor the pro-choice side. Furthermore, vetoes and veto overrides--which seemed at times to dominate Congress' agenda -- will no longer be a factor.

"The whole focus is going to be different," said Rep. Constance Morella (DMd.), a member of the congressional delegation to last year's Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. Morella estimates that one-fourth of Congress' time has been spent haggling over abortion funding. "It will be so wonderful to get that out of the way," she said.

With the "ins" suddenly moved out and the "outs" just as swiftly in control, the abortion battles are bound to move to the streets and abortion clinics of America -- unless the combatants, as some are suggesting, begin to look for compromise.

Rep. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), who like Morella is a Catholic, said: "I think the real question is where this issue will go from this point forward." He said he hopes it will be in the direction of dialogue between prolife and pro-choice forces that seeks "a sensible middle ground."

For him, the middle ground is the health of children who, "once born, come into the world without a chance," he said. "If all the people who march on both sides of the issue would spend a small portion of that energy working for solutions, I think the quality of life for these children could be greatly improved," he said.

Morella agrees. "More and more people are writing about the fact that both sides should come together," she said. Standing by Clinton as he signed the executive orders Jan. 22 was Vice President Gore, leader of the delegation to Rio and the new administration's most prominent advocate of easing the pressure on the environment by defusing the population explosion.

Gore, in his newly reissued book, Earth in the Balance, ties population stability to better education, readily available contraceptives and, perhaps surprisingly, higher survival among children.

"Low infant-mortality rates give parents a high level of confidence that even with a small family, some of their children will grow to maturity, carry the family name and genes (and in the belief of some societies, the spirits of ancestors) and provide physical security for their parents when they are old," the vice president writes.

He points out that the Catholic church, "despite its opposition to contraception, is one of the most forceful and effective adocates for literacy and education programs and for measures to dramatically reduce infant mortality."

In what turns out to have been a signal of what the new administration is in fact doing, then-Sen. Gore wrote: "The United States should restore full funding of its share of the cost of international population stabilization programs."
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Author:Clancy, Paul
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Cover Story
Date:Feb 5, 1993
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