WASHINGTON -- It should come as no surprise to anyone that Republican conservatives in Congress are mounting another full-bore attack on abortion rights.
You might have imagined the abortion issue was settled for the foreseeable future by the Supreme Court decision in a Pennsylvania case. The court essentially upheld Roe vs. Wade, but ruled that states could impose restrictions on abortion so long as they did not impose an "undue burden" on women.
The beauty of that decision was that it seemed to reflect with remarkable accuracy the opinion of the nation. Time after time election returns and opinion polls have shown that Americans don't want government interfering in the abortion decision..
But opponents of abortion rights have never accepted those parameters. Instead, they have continued to take the position that this is a moral question on which they intend to impose their view.
In winning control of Congress for the first time in 40 years, the Republicans gave short shrift to issues such as abortion rights and the demand for prayer in the public schools. They did not turn their backs on conservatism, but chose to emphasize other issues.
During the 1994 campaign, the core of the argument that carried the Republicans to power was an attack on the way Washington was working under the controlling Democratic establishment. Their case was based more on question of process.
Nor was it any accident that abortion rights -- as well as the school prayer amendment -- was left out of House Speaker Newt Gingrich's Contract With America, the manifesto on which the Republicans believed they had been elected.
What Gingrich understood was that the first priority for the Republicans was to demonstrate that they could govern effectively. And such a demonstration required a set of proposals in their contract that enjoyed whelming public support. Most of the proposals were aggressively promulgated in the first 100 days of Republican Congress.
Having achieved that success, however, the conservatives -- particularly in the House -- have initiated at least a dozen attempts to limit abortion rights. And many of their proposals have come out of a different contract -- the Christian Coalition's "Contract With the American Family."
Thus, for example, the House has passed a bill banning abortions in United States military hospitals abroad even if the women seeking abortions pay for the procedures. And the House is close to passing a bill that would criminalize a specific procedure used in the late stages of a pregnancy.
The latter is particularly inflammatory. According to the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, there are only three physicians in the country who perform abortions on women in the last three months of pregnancy. Moreover, such abortions make up only 0.04 percent of the total.
The notion that these are cases in which women decide cavalierly to have an abortion is absurd. On the contrary, these are cases of fetuses with severe abnormalities or essentially no chance for survival after birth. But the procedure is a grisly one that the opponents of abortion rights use to make a frightening argument.
The assault on abortion rights goes beyond this procedure, however. If the conservatives have their way, abortion counseling will no longer be available to low-income women and teen-agers under the Public Health Services Act. Foreign aid funds could not be used for abortion counseling. Medicaid funds could pay for abortions only if the mother's life is threatened, but not in cases of rape or incest. The District of Columbia could not use local tax revenues for abortions, and federal employees' health insurance plans could not cover abortions.
There also would be a ban on use of federal funds for fetal tissue research and testing of the abortion drug RU-486.
The list goes on, But what is missing is evidence that the voters of 1994 thought they were buying into this kind of extremism when they elected the Republican Congress.