Bush Chides Abortion Protesters : Presidency: He criticizes tactics of demonstrators in Wichita. About 2,100 people have been arrested there, accused of defying a federal judge’s orders.
President Bush spoke out sharply Saturday against anti-abortion demonstrators who have tried to block abortion clinics in Wichita, Kan. Hours later, he vetoed a measure that would have permitted the District of Columbia to pay for abortions for poor women.
As expected, the President also signed a measure extending unemployment benefits for the long-term jobless by 20 weeks, but then he refused to sign an emergency declaration that is required to release the $5.2 billion from the Treasury.
“I am deeply concerned about those who have lost their jobs during the recession and am anxious to see them return to work at the earliest possible date,” Bush said in a written statement. But, he said, the measure approved by overwhelming majorities in Congress earlier this month “is not an effective response to current economic conditions.”
Bush’s veto of the District of Columbia measure, combined with his comments on the Wichita abortion protesters, reflected the dual approach he has been taking on one of the most sensitive issues facing American society in general and American political thought in particular.
When he campaigned for the Republican presidential nomination in 1980, Bush expressed support for a woman’s right to an abortion. But when he joined Ronald Reagan’s Republican presidential ticket that year, he subscribed to Reagan’s strict opposition to abortion.
Reflecting that latter view, Bush said in a statement Saturday: “As a nation, we must protect the unborn.”
When asked why he had not spoken out about the Wichita protests in the past, Bush, in his most direct comments on the demonstrations, said: “I’ve been perfectly prepared to say all along . . . that I disapprove of breaking the law.
“Certainly threatening a federal judge or threatening a President or threatening somebody else is probably within the rights of fair speech, free speech, and I expect a court might hold that, but I don’t think it’s good,” Bush said in remarks on the first tee of the Cape Arundel Golf Course.
For a month, Operation Rescue, an anti-abortion group, has targeted three abortion clinics in the Wichita area with protests, and approximately 2,100 people have been arrested. U.S. District Judge Patrick F. Kelly received threats after issuing an order prohibiting the protesters from blocking entry to the clinics. The Justice Department has intervened on the side of the protesters, arguing that the federal court lacks jurisdiction over the local protests.
About 125 people were arrested in Wichita on Saturday after they crawled under sawhorses and rushed police officers who were guarding a family planning clinic.
Operation Rescue announced Saturday that its leaders, Randall Terry and Father Patrick J. Mahoney, were headed to Kennebunkport to seek a meeting with Bush in an effort to urge him to denounce what they consider excessively harsh sentences given to anti-abortion activists, the Associated Press reported.
In recent days, Bush has complained about “excessive” protest. A labor group on Friday protested the anticipated action on the jobless bill, staging a quiet demonstration in Kennebunkport. And ACT-UP, a group seeking greater federal support for the anti-AIDS effort, has announced plans to demonstrate here on Sept. 1.
Specifically addressing the Wichita situation in response to a question, Bush said:
“I don’t think it helps the cause, whether the cause is anti-abortion or pro-abortion, or whether it’s AIDS, whatever it is. And so what I’m saying is the American people get turned off by the excesses, the denial of the rights of others, for example.
“I disapprove of throwing blood. I don’t like interrupting people’s speeches. I think that’s probably protected under the First Amendment, but I think it hurts the cause, whatever the cause is. . . . I don’t think people like just plain rudeness. I think people come to a convention or hear somebody speak, whether it is the President or somebody else, wondering what he has to say.”
The $3.86-billion District of Columbia spending measure provides funds for the city for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1. It includes language that would permit Washington, D.C., to pay for abortions for poor women, which Bush said is “unacceptable.”
“I have stated my intention to veto any bill that does not contain language that prohibits the use of all congressionally appropriated funds to pay for abortions other than those in which the life of the mother would be endangered if the fetus were carried to term,” Bush said.
The measure, he said, “would permit congressionally appropriated local funds to be used for abortions on demand with no restriction whatsoever.”
District of Columbia Mayor Sharon Pratt Dixon criticized the veto. “Where a woman chooses to live should not affect her reproductive choice,” she said.
The unemployment assistance bill would extend benefits for some 3 million unemployed Americans who have completed their 26 weeks of eligibility but remain out of work. Under the 1990 agreement worked out by the Administration and Congress to bring down the federal budget deficit, a declaration of economic emergency would have to be signed before the money could be spent.
Under the bill, 20 weeks of additional benefits would be given to states with 8% unemployment for six consecutive months. States with 7% unemployment would gain an added 13 weeks of benefits.
In his statement, Bush said the Administration, Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan and most private forecasters “believe that the recession has ended and that a recovery appears to be under way.”
He called last month’s drop in unemployment, from 7% to 6.8%, an encouraging sign--although it at least partially reflected the number of workers who have given up looking for jobs, rather than an increase in jobs themselves.
Bush’s action, which was anticipated when the legislation was passed and then signaled again last Thursday by his aides, was condemned in advance by Democratic leaders and labor officials.
The President said that “by historical standards, the current unemployment rate would not be cause for ‘emergency’ action to trigger additional benefits above and beyond those provided by current law.”
“While it is not a satisfactory substitute for a job, I am gratified that the present unemployment compensation system--including its provisions for extended benefits--is providing $25.4 billion in payments to the unemployed this fiscal year,” Bush said.
He argued that an emergency declaration could be counterproductive, signaling that the discipline of the 1990 budget agreement was being abandoned.
“This would have a negative effect on financial markets, could jeopardize the recovery and thus might increase unemployment just when the projected recovery would otherwise have been decreasing unemployment,” he said.