Opponents count votes, weigh tactics and Constitutions.

When does one’s life begin?

At conception (fertilization)? At implantation in the uterus? At viability, whatever that is? At birth?

For U.S. Senator Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) and hosts of antiabortionists, the answer is obvious: at conception.

Helms’s legislative proposal S. 158, dropped into the hopper several months ago, would make that answer a matter of public policy.

Amid charges of a stacked deck of witnesses, the first round of hearings on the bill were held last month by a subcommittee chaired by Helms’s protégé, John East (R-N.C.). Seven of the eight medical-scientific authorities who testified upheld the contention that human life begins at conception—the foundation slab of the Helms bill.

(Corresponding bills have been introduced in the House by Republican Henry Hyde of Illinois and Democrat Romano L. Mazzoli of Kentucky.)

In defining the fetus as a “person,” the bill would extend to all unborn the due-process protection of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution. It would permit states to ban or otherwise strictly regulate abortions, in effect reversing the landmark 1973 U.S. Supreme Court Roe v. Wade decision that struck down statutes outlawing or greatly restricting abortion.

The bill in a separate section would prohibit lower federal courts from involvement in abortion cases.

Until S. 158, many antiabortionists were pinning their hopes on an amendment to the Constitution to outlaw abortion. But that route requires two-thirds approval of each house of Congress and ratification by 38 states. Advocates of a constitutional amendment have been unable to agree on wording or strategy, and none of the many versions has been reported out of committee.

Ardent antiabortion ...

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