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Congressional Abortion Foes, Advocates Unite in Welfare Reform Fight

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Anti-abortion Republicans in Congress are teaming up with unlikely allies--Democratic colleagues and abortion-rights advocates--to fight central provisions of the House GOP welfare reform initiative that they believe would increase the number of abortions.

The dissension within the ranks of Republicans indicates that House leaders are likely to have a tough time pushing through legislation to deny cash welfare payments to teen-agers who have babies and to restrict additional benefits to welfare recipients who have babies while on the dole.

One freshman Republican, Jim Bunn of Oregon, felt so strongly that the GOP welfare reform proposal would increase abortions that he became the one Republican not to sign the “contract with America.”

“As a pro-life member of Congress, I thought it was quite inconsistent to tell someone with crisis pregnancy to have her babies but refuse to help her,” Bunn said in an interview. “As I see the welfare reform moving through the subcommittee, it does not meet the needs of girls with crisis pregnancies.”

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A group of Democratic and Republican abortion opponents in Congress plans to meet today to devise its strategy for striking the provisions from the bill.

Some Republicans who oppose abortion but who favor denying benefits to teen-age mothers and children born to mothers already on welfare conceded that the provisions are likely to increase the number of abortions. But they argued that the social good is worth the cost.

“In the short term, abortions will increase,” said Robert Rector, a welfare specialist at the conservative Heritage Foundation who played a leading role in drafting the GOP welfare reform plan. “But if we create a welfare reform policy designed to foster personal responsibility and self-control, it will in the long term reduce out-of-wedlock births and abortions.”

But some of the proposals’ biggest advocates, including Rep. E. Clay Shaw Jr. (R-Fla.) who chairs the Ways and Means subcommittee responsible for drafting welfare reform legislation, argued that neither pregnant teen-agers nor welfare recipients will be more likely to have abortions.

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“I have more faith in them than that,” he said.

William J. Bennett, a former education secretary and author of “The Book of Virtues,” said he believes that abortions would increase in the short term because of welfare reform but that the plan later would induce girls to stop having sex. “These girls want to say no, but they want to say no without hurting the boys’ feelings,” Bennett said.

But Sharon Daly, a spokeswoman for Catholic Charities, said that such views reflect a lack of understanding of teen-agers.

“They are imagining that teen-agers think about these things--that they engage in risk analysis the way investment bankers analyze the market,” Daly said. “Teen-agers aren’t grown-ups. Teen-agers have the kinds of problems they have specifically because they don’t have judgment.”

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During testimony before the Ways and Means human resources subcommittee, Bunn made the same point relating the story of Tracey Dreger, a teen-ager from his district who was abandoned by her boyfriend, worked hard at two jobs before her baby was born but now collects welfare while she cares for her infant. She plans to go back to work in two months.

“Mr. Chairman, in my opinion, Tracey is exactly the kind of person the welfare system should be designed to serve,” Bunn said. “Like all teen-agers, Tracey has made some mistakes.

“If welfare reform is to encourage recipients to take responsibility for their lives, it must not push young women to undergo abortions, in my opinion, the ultimate denial of personal responsibility.”

Catholic Charities surveyed its counselors, who serve 138,000 girls and women with crisis pregnancies each year and found that if teen-agers knew they would be unable to collect welfare, a significant percentage would choose to abort their pregnancies.

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The National Right to Life Committee, which is also fighting to remove provisions from the welfare reform plan that it believes will increase abortions, has distributed a survey of 1,900 girls in abortion clinics across the country. The survey found that not having the financial resources to afford a baby was the most important reason for abortions and that 73% of girls younger than 18 named it as one of the reasons for their decision to have an abortion.

Anti-abortion groups, however, are not unanimous in their opposition. “There will be other ways to provide for the kids,” said Andrea Sheldon, director of government affairs for the Traditional Values Coalition, which represents 31,000 churches, many of them fundamentalist.


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