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Public Funding for Private Choices


Atlanta. -- In the blizzard of words and numbers from Washington, some facts jump off the page. They are so indefensible, they aren't mentioned. So it is with the question of federal funds for abortions, part of the House debate over the huge social appropriations bill.

The unsuccessful attempt last week to repeal the Hyde Amendment of 1976 was a test vote on the current strength of the anti-abortion movement -- an important test because it will set the stage for the larger debate over Hillary Rodham Clinton's health-care package. She and the president will have to decide if including abortions in basic health benefits risks dooming the overall plan.

The debate over taxpayer funds for abortion is tricky. The public is becoming more accepting of "choice" and even is learning to swallow the latest euphemism -- reproductive rights. But a majority of Americans oppose most abortions and large majorities oppose taxpayer payments.

Abortion supporters know the polling numbers. They must argue by marketing terms such as "choice" and "rights." They must leap over the place in the road where John Q. hits the bump and realizes his payroll taxes are going to a procedure he likely views as morally wrong.

President Clinton pledged to make abortion "safe, legal and rare." Including abortions in basic health-care plans directly contradicts those words.

Safe, legal and rare? On to the facts, the ones you don't often see or hear.

Prior to 1976 and the Hyde Amendment, federal funds paid for 300,000 elective abortions a year. In 1990, the number of taxpayer-supported abortions (to save the life of the mother) was 69.

Only the most rabid and callous abortion supporter would want to resume that public carnage. Private decisions can be opposed, but respected. Private choices suggest a right to be left alone.

But public policy carries with it those stark numbers, a toll that mounts each year and mortifies those forced to pay for it.

And with the Clinton health plan on the horizon, along with higher taxes to spread the benefits, the nation's 1.6 million annual abortions would become part of the taxpayer ledger.

Not likely, you say? The flip Rep. Pat Schroeder, D-Colo., was asked recently why the government should force taxpayers to pay for abortions. "Well," she replied, "they pay for everything else."

With those kinds of attitudes, facts and figures have to be ignored, the public has to be fooled.

The Clintons know that well. In fact, they heard it in April from no less than their new adviser, David Gergen.

"Where most Americans have drawn the line," Mr. Gergen wrote in U.S. News and World Report, "is in paying for other people's abortions, especially abortions on demand."

That line is what the Clintons would erase and what the House voted to retain.

Dick Williams writes for the Atlanta Journal.

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