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Public Displeasure Prompts US Politicians to Tread Gently in Schiavo Case
Published on Monday, March 28, 2005 by Agence France Presse
Public Displeasure Prompts US Politicians to Tread Gently in Schiavo Case
 

WASHINGTON -- One week after the US Congress passed extraordinary legislation aimed at having Terry Schiavo's feeding tube reinserted, public displeasure appears to have prompted bill supporters to downplay the significance of their intervention.

Special legislation passed in the dead of night last weekend broadened the jurisdiction in the Schiavo case from state to federal courts, and President George W. Bush signed the bill into law early Monday.

The unprecedented measure was a victory for the parents of Terri Schiavo, who had fought for years in state courts to prolong the life of the severely brain-damaged woman against the wishes of her husband, who says she never wanted to live on life support.

But Schiavo appeared to be in her final hours early Monday after days without food and water following rulings by Florida and federal courts refusing to order her feeding tube reinserted -- despite the intervention from politicians in Washington.

Since then, several nationwide polls have registered broad public disapproval of the federal intervention.

In a poll by ABC News last week, 70 percent of respondents said congressional legislation moving the dispute to federal court was "inappropriate," while just 27 percent found the federal intervention "appropriate."

Public displeasure appears to have caught political Washington off guard after the Schiavo case became a rallying cry for conservatives and members of Christian anti-abortion groups, who believed their cause would gain traction because of the celebrated right-to-life case.

During hours of congressional debate leading up to the vote, the bill's mostly conservative lawmakers hailed the legislation as an important inroad in support of a "culture of life." On Sunday however they seemed to tread more cautiously.

"What Congress did, it seems to me, was not all that extraordinary," said Mitch McConnell, one of the Senate's top Republicans, on the Fox News Sunday program. He likened the lawmakers' intervention to the sort of judicial review that routinely takes place in death penalty cases.

"What we simply did was grant to the courts an opportunity to review the case -- something they do in habeas corpus petitions in death penalty cases all the time," he said adding, that at any rate, Republicans were no more culpable than Democrats in passing the legislation.

"In the Senate, it was completely bipartisan. It passed on a voice vote, which meant no one dissented," said McConnell.

Critics weighing the potential political fallout have accused conservatives of demagoguing the tragedy -- especially after House Majority Leader Tom DeLay told a recent conservative gathering that Republicans could score easy points against Democrats because of the Schiavo case.

"One thing that God has brought to us is Terri Schiavo, to elevate the visibility of what's going on in America," DeLay told a meeting of the Family Research Council earlier this month.

"We have to do everything that is in our power to save Terri Schiavo and anybody else that may be in this kind of position," he said.

One senior Democrat said Sunday he was deeply offended by the statement.

"As I listen to Tom DeLay, I mean, for him to say, 'God sent us this,' well, that seems to me almost profane," Democratic Representative Barney Frank told ABC television on Sunday.

Representative Dave Weldon of Florida, one of the chief Republican backers of the Schiavo bill, blamed the media for the public's opposition, and said that on the "issue of life ... we, as conservatives, are always fighting an uphill battle.

"We have the media totally against us. The arguments are always presented in the headlines in language that works against us," he said on ABC television.

Meanwhile Democrats are also facing criticism that they did not strongly speak out against the bill.

Frank, who strongly opposed congressional intervention on constitutional grounds, said members of his party might have mobilized had they had time to.

"People didn't have a chance to think about it," he told ABC.

"Saturday night I got a phone call ... And it said, you're convening tomorrow night," the Massachusetts Democrat said.

Franks said the public airing was "useful," but that the vote was still rushed and wrong.

"People made a decision under the gun when they shouldn't have," Franks said.

Copyright © 2005 Agence France Presse

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