One side calls it "the summer of life"; the other calls it "a campaign to demonize women."
Characterizations aside, there is no dispute that the Republican-dominated House has launched a broad and concerted drive to reverse abortion rights.
On Thursday, the House adopted a $267-billion defense authorization bill that bans abortions in U.S. military hospitals abroad. On Wednesday, a House subcommittee held a hearing to consider overturning the latest guidelines issued by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education that require all OB-GYN residency training programs to offer abortion training if they want accreditation. And Republicans also took aim this week at a rare but extremely controversial procedure typically used in advanced pregnancies.
"This is a bad week for women," said Rep. Patricia Schroeder (D-Colo.), an abortion-rights champion.
But abortion foes are confident that they finally have gained the upper hand in the House, and quite possibly in the Senate.
"There's a different majority in control now and this is our first real opportunity to move," said Rep. Charles T. Canady of Florida, a GOP point man on an array of divisive social issues now before Congress. "We should not have abortion on demand in this country."
Schroeder and her allies vow to wage a fight on the abortion front, but they readily concede that they lack the votes in the House to stop what Schroeder calls "this slippery backsliding."
Their only hope, she and Rep. Nita M. Lowey (D-N.Y.) said in an interview, is for the Senate and perhaps President Clinton, with his veto pen, to stop the anti-abortion forces.
This week's skirmishes over abortion rights are just the latest battles on numerous social and cultural issues that the Republican majority, particularly in the House, is eagerly pursuing now that the GOP's 100-day juggernaut is over.
That agenda, also championed by the Christian Coalition and other socially conservative groups, includes a ban on flag desecration, cancellation of affirmative action programs and a "religious liberty" constitutional amendment that would bring back prayer in public schools. On Tuesday, 60 House Republicans formed a "family caucus" to push such issues.
In the defense authorization bill, language barring abortions at military hospitals abroad was written by Rep. Robert K. Dornan (R-Garden Grove), chairman of the military personnel subcommittee. "Our defense mission is to save lives, not to flat-line brain waves," he said.
The measure, which passed, 230 to 196, allows for exceptions only to save a woman's life. The legislation would restore a policy imposed during the Ronald Reagan Administration but reversed by Clinton as one of his first official acts.
Also on Thursday, Canady's House Judiciary constitutional subcommittee held a hearing on his proposal to criminalize an abortion technique that he describes as bordering on homicide, making violations a felony punishable by up to two years in prison. Even abortion-rights advocates concede that the procedure is horrific. The procedure makes up only 0.04% of all abortions performed after 24 weeks of gestation, or about 200 a year. Typically, it is used in late pregnancies to save a mother's life or after the detection of severe fetal abnormalities.
The procedure requires a physician to extract a fetus, feet first, from the womb and through the birth canal until all but its head is exposed.
Then the tips of surgical scissors are thrust into the base of the fetus' skull, and a suction catheter is inserted through the opening and the brain is removed.
"It is heartening to see the U.S. Congress begin to take action to prohibit this inhumane procedure that has gone on for far too long," said Susan Muskett, a Christian Coalition policy analyst.
Rep. Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.) and other abortion foes conceded that they are focusing on that procedure as an opening salvo because its gruesome nature would serve to "get the public attention focused."
To press home their point, Canady and his allies called the procedure "partial-birth abortions," although there appears to be no consensus within the OB-GYN community on what to call it.
Schroeder denounced Canady's bill as "intrusive government at its very, very worst," and called it "but one part of a concerted, multi-step effort to effectively deprive women of access to abortion."
The attack on the accreditation of abortion training programs was orchestrated by Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.), chairman of a House oversight and investigations subcommittee.
At a hearing, he accused the medical accreditation council of "taking sides in an extremely divisive moral and social issue," and said he is drafting legislation to prevent the council from implementing the guidelines, scheduled to take effect Jan. 1.
The guidelines are still undergoing revisions to clarify language regarding conscience exemptions for individuals and institutions for whom abortion is objectionable.
According to Dr. Robert D'Alessandri, chairman of the council, which establishes education standards and evaluates residency programs, the guidelines are the result of a periodic review and are intended to explicitly state that "clinical experience in family planning" requires training in abortion techniques.
"As long as this is a legal procedure, we should be training people to perform it," said D'Alessandri, who is also dean of the West Virginia University Medical School.
The mandatory abortion training requirement is one of many the council imposes on medical education institutions. Failure to meet any single requirement, and especially the "family planning" guideline, has not caused a center to lose accreditation, D'Alessandri said.
Times staff writer Gebe Martinez contributed to this story.