Anti-Abortion Forces Knock on the Back Door

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Timothy McVeigh should have been charged with at least one more murder. That’s the line from the Christian Coalition, members of which were on hand Thursday as the House passed a bill that would make it a federal offense to harm a fetus while committing a federal crime. Under the coalition-backed Unborn Victims of Violence Act, McVeigh, one of the perpetrators in the Oklahoma City bombing case, would have one more offense on his rap sheet because a pregnant woman was among the casualties of the explosion. While no one can predict what will happen in the Senate, the House approval caught some people off guard. Abortion-rights supporters are up in arms over this latest campaign, worried that granting legal protection to fetuses would undermine existing abortion-rights legislation.

"This bill is a pure sham," National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League president Kate Michelman told CNN. "It’s sponsored and promoted by those who want to take away a woman’s right to choose." The rhetoric on the flip side of the issue is no less passionate. Rep. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) explained to CNN, "This bill doesn’t erode a woman’s right to choose; it puts limits on criminals’ rights to destroy unborn children without the permission of the woman."

Ever since the passage of Roe v. Wade, abortion-rights activists have feared that abortion opponents, by chipping away at federal law, could eventually succeed in having abortions classified as murders. But this bill, says TIME Washington correspondent John Dickerson, is unlikely to create much of a dent. "I very much doubt that this bill will pass," he says, "and even if it did, it would probably be struck down by the Supreme Court, since it flies in the face of the court’s existing stand on reproductive rights." If defeat is almost guaranteed, what’s in this campaign for the Christian Coalition? A presence on the political map, says Dickerson. "There’s a nagging fear in the coalition that they are being marginalized. This group hasn’t backed a winning candidate or bill in a long time. They’ve lost whatever power they once may have had in the Republican party’s primary process, and things are looking even worse now that George W. Bush has made it clear that he’s not interested in being a vocal member of the anti-abortion movement." This latest attempt to steer themselves back into the center of the national political debate may turn out to be yet another wrong turn.