W. H. MARSHNER
(Special to The Wanderer)
February 7, 1974
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Sen. Birch Bayh (D., Ind.), chairman of the constitutional amendments subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has tentatively scheduled hearings on the Helms and Buckley anti-abortion amendments for Wednesday and Thursday, March 6th and 7th.
Although no public announcement of this scheduling has been made as of this writing, Capitol Hill sources became aware of the dates on Jan. 28th, and word has begun to spread among pro-life organizations.
Announcement of a date for these Senate hearings has long been sought, but heretofore Sen. Bayh has been unwilling to say anything definite. Known to be unsympathetic to the pro-life cause, Sen. Bayh has been widely accused of delaying and downplaying the issue.
A combination of factors is seen as having moved the Indiana Senator to action. First, there is the success in the Senate of the Helms amendment to the Foreign Aid Bill (which forbade the use of government money to perform or encourage abortion overseas) and of the Buckley amendment to the Social Security Act (which forbade the use of Medicaid funds to pay for abortion). Previous to the introduction of these measures, abortion had not been figured as an issue on the Senate floor, and the overwhelming passage of both caused considerable discussion.
Secondly, Sen. Bayh himself has been under continuing pressure from his Indiana constituents. He is up for re-election in 1974 and may face a strong challenge from Mayor Lugar of Indianapolis. The electoral potential of Indiana’s pro- life organizations, especially the statewide Committee for the Preservation of Life (CPL), is beginning to be felt. According to Valerie Dillon, a spokeswoman for the nondenominational CPL, the group will sponsor a mass rally in cooperation with the Indiana State Catholic Conference and many other groups on April 20th, just before the primary elections.
Plans for the mass rally were announced last week.
Thirdly, it came as an unpleasant surprise to many pro-abortion or uncommitted politicians that now, a whole year after the Supreme Court decision, the right-to-life movement is not only alive but growing. Large- scale demonstrations in several major cities on Jan. 22nd proved this point beyond any doubt.
No official response to the setting of hearings has been made as yet by the U.S. Catholic Conference (USCC). Msgr. James T. McHugh, head of the Family Life Division and secretary to the Bishops’ Pro-life Affairs Committee, said, “We’ve been waiting for this and we’ve been planning for it.” He predicted that the conference would definitely send someone to testify (he declined to say whom) and indicated that this testimony would largely concern the moral and religious aspects of the right to life. “This is the first set of hearings, and we are going in to enunciate the principles that guide us.”
In regard to the differences between the Buckley and Helms amendments, Msgr. McHugh would take no stand. “No decision has ever been made in regard to opposing or endorsing any existing amendments,” McHugh said.
The key planning decisions as to (1) who will be invited to testify in behalf of the human life amendments and (2) what areas their testimony should cover, will be made in the next few weeks by senior staffers in the Helms and Buckley offices.