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A Call To Arms

The Supreme Court‘s 5-4 decision striking down a Nebraska ban on late-term abortions has energized groups on the both sides of the emotional abortion issue.

While the efforts of anti-abortion advocates have attracted more publicity, pro-choicers have been sounding the alarm to voters that the next president’s high court appointees could determine whether American women continue to have a right in law to terminate a pregnancy.

President Clinton said the right to an abortion hangs "in the balance." Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore warned that "one extra vote on the wrong side" could take away the right to an abortion, which has been protected since the 1973 Roe v Wade decision.

Ellen Malcolm, the president of Emily's List, an organization that backs female, pro-choice Democratic candidates for office, predicted that if elected, Republican candidate George W. Bush "will appoint justices to the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade."

Bush, who believes abortion should be permitted only in instances of rape, incest and to save a woman's life, said he was "disappointed" by the decision.

Bush has said on the stump that he would sign a federal ban on the procedure he calls "partial birth abortion." Mr. Clinton has vetoed all such measures sent to him by the Congress. About 30 states have passed laws like the Nebraska law nullified this week.

Abortion foes have already mobilized to fight the high court ruling. A coalition of anti-abortion groups is urging the GOP to keep unconditional opposition to abortion in the party platform. Efforts are also under way to draft new laws barring late-term abortions that will withstand legal challenges.

"I am not sure how many folks in the middle of the political spectrum will be moved to the polls by this decision, but certainly it is a huge wakeup call to both bases in both parties," says Keith Appel, a conservative media strategist who was a national spokesman for the Steve Forbes presidential campaign. "I think there's going to be a very substantial impact when it comes to turnout of the vote in both bases of both parties."

"The right wing will be extremely energized by this decision and very active in the election," Malcolm said in an interview. That "gives moderate women voters a message that they have to go out and vote for pro-choice candidates."

The rising volume surrounding abortion would seem to focus still more attention on Bush's choice of a vice presidential running mate, a subject that's generated considerable static since pro-choice Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge was rumored to be a favorite.

Bush has been circumspect about his veep selection process, but Appel thinks the Supreme Court abortion decision "enhances the likelihood that Governor Bush will select a solidly pro-life running mate in order to emphatically draw the distinction" between himself and Gore othe issue.

Bush also said that he hopes to draft a re-crafted ban law "that meets constitutional scrutiny." Top aide Karen Hughes says the governor thinks it is "possible."

David J. Garrow of Emory University School of Law, an expert on abortion rights, says it's not. He says the "the court majority's insistence [on] … a health exception" would render even the most narrowly drawn bills unenforceable.