President Bush vetoed legislation Saturday authorizing federal abortion funding for rape and incest victims, but one of the leaders of the anti-abortion movement in Congress said he sees a subsequent compromise in the cards.
Rep. Robert K. Dornan (R-Garden Grove), who is involved in congressional discussions with the White House, said that if an attempt to override the veto fails, even the most strident opponents of abortion in Congress are likely to join Bush in accepting a law providing funds to end pregnancies in rape or incest cases under certain conditions.
First, Dornan said, a sexual assault would have to be reported to law enforcement officials. The landmark abortion legislation that Bush vetoed Saturday would have allowed reporting to health clinics in addition to law enforcement agencies.
Dornan said that a rape victim would be required to report the attack to police within 48 hours, and an incest victim would have to name her assailant. The legislation Congress had approved called only for "prompt" reporting and required no identification in incest cases.
The Orange County conservative said the new provisions would prevent women who are not victims of rape or incest from fraudulently using the law to obtain abortions financed by Medicaid or other federal funds.
It also would rule out use of federal funds in all but a handful of abortions, perhaps as few as 100 each year, he said.
"I can live with this," Dornan said. "We're a pluralistic government here with lots of viewpoints, and if they (pro-choice forces) are willing to give us tight laws . . . (to prevent) fraud and abuse, and we start putting fathers in jail who are . . . drunken rapists, and we get more rapes reported, we've accomplished a goal that all of us, liberals and conservatives, can agree on.
"Our position is, it's still taking a human life," Dornan said. "I'm not conceding anything . . . (but) I'm trying to tell the pro-lifers who are single-issue people, God bless them, I love them, but they don't have to sit here and make a government run."
Dornan's comments are significant because he and Rep. Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.) and a handful of others have been the point men for the national anti-abortion movement in the House of Representatives. Both Hyde and Dornan have huddled regularly on the issue in recent weeks with White House Chief of Staff John H. Sununu.
After Saturday's veto, Bush issued a statement from the presidential retreat at Camp David, Md., saying: "I have informed Congress on numerous occasions that I would veto legislation if it permitted the use of appropriated funds to pay for abortions other than those in which the life of the mother would be in danger of a fetus carried to term."
Asked earlier Saturday about Dornan's assessment of the prospects for a compromise, a White House spokesman said: "We will have no comment at this time."
But Dornan said the White House is open to considering another measure authorizing funding for abortion in cases of rape and incest under restricted provisions. "I think they're expecting that language to come back (in a new bill)," Dornan said. "And if it does, this (controversy) will disappear overnight."
The bill vetoed by Bush contains 1990 fiscal year funding for the Labor Department as well as the Department of Health and Human Services. The funding for both departments will continue temporarily under a continuing resolution that keeps current law in effect.
An amendment providing for expanded federal funding of abortions had been added to the appropriations measure by Congress. In every previous year since 1981, Congress had adopted an amendment offered by Hyde that bans federal funding of any abortions except those to save the life of the mother.
The national debate over abortion heated up after the Supreme Court earlier this year chipped away at the landmark 1972 case, Roe vs. Wade, that legalized abortions through the first three months of pregnancy. In a Missouri case, the high court held that states have the right to restrict abortions.
The ruling was hailed by abortion opponents and denounced by pro-choice groups and feminist organizations.
Partisans on both sides of the current debate have said that they expect the Senate and House to attempt to override the President's veto, which requires a two-thirds vote. The fight is expected to be close in the Senate, but Dornan said an override would fail in the House.
"Those 206 votes are solid," he said, referring to the House members who voted against expanded funding.
Even Rep. Barbara Boxer (D-Greenbrae), who led the House fight to permit federal funding of rape and incest abortions, conceded that the override attempt in the House "very well may" fail.
"Then we'll decide what we're going to do," she said.
She said she was surprised by Dornan's suggestion that conservative anti-abortionists are willing to accept some type of federal funding for abortions for victims of rape and incest.
"That's news," she said.
But Boxer said she believes that pro-choice forces already have compromised enough. "For . . . years, the Hyde amendment stood in that bill, and for as many years I voted for the bill even though it had the Hyde amendment in it.
"I say to my friends who may not agree with me on this issue, to do what I did. Swallow your pride, and accept the fact that it is the will of the House that there be an exception for rape and incest, and vote for the bill the way it is."
But Dornan said he believes liberals like Boxer who back federal funding for rape and incest abortions will be under increasing pressure from constituents to tighten the bill's language to make it acceptable to conservatives.
White House officials have told some in the anti-abortion movement that after initially considering the possibility of a compromise, Bush decided to veto the measure, in part, because Boxer and others had painted him as indecisive on the issue, Dornan said.
"Barbara Boxer went on one or two (television) shows too many, and pushed her line: 'He (Bush) has more positions on this issue than Imelda Marcos (former Philippines First Lady) has shoes.' Somebody down at the White House told a pro-lifer, 'We're sick of hearing that line.'
"It was being shoved in his face that he was all over the place," Dornan said. "So they said, 'OK, that's it. We veto. And we'll build after that.' "
Dornan said he counseled a veto, based on the current language of the bill.
Dornan, a Roman Catholic, allowed that he has another trick up his sleeve to ensure that the current language does not survive. He said he has compiled a list of Roman Catholic representatives who voted against him on the abortion issue.
When Roman Catholic bishops from across the country gather in Washington next month for their annual meeting, Dornan said he will make a suggestion to the group.
Individual bishops should invite for dinner those Roman Catholic representatives who voted for the current language in the HHS bill, Dornan said.
"I don't know a Catholic who is worthy of the name who would ever turn down his bishop," Dornan said.