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Lieberman Questioned on Abortion Stance

December 26, 2003

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Democratic presidential candidate Joe Lieberman faced questions about his position on abortion Friday after a New Hampshire newspaper indicated he thinks the historic Roe vs. Wade decision needs to be re-examined because of medical advances.

Lieberman said late Friday that The Union-Leader of Manchester ``misreported that he thinks the Roe vs. Wade case should be revisited.″

Edward Domaingue, managing editor of the newspaper, said, ``We stand by what we reported.″

The Connecticut senator issued a statement Friday saying, ``I did not say nor do I believe that Roe should be looked at again, revisited or reconsidered.″

Lieberman spokesman Jano Cabrera said, ``There is one reason and one reason only why there is no direct quote from Senator Lieberman calling for the Roe v. Wade decision to be looked at again: Because he never said that.″

According to Lieberman, ``I said in that interview what I have said for years _ namely that medical science has advanced the time of legal viability to approximately 24 weeks. In response, the courts have determined that the viability standard has replaced the original trimester formulation of Roe.″

A fetus is considered ``viable″ when it can survive outside of the womb.

Lieberman said Friday the court’s shift to a viability standard has actually ``lengthened the time of a woman’s clearly protected right to choose in Roe from the first trimester to 24 weeks.″

The Union Leader reported Friday that Lieberman supports a woman’s right to choose, but also recognizes that the period of time in which a woman has a right to get an abortion is gradually shrinking. Because of advances in medical science, a fetus can survive if born or delivered earlier in a pregnancy, Lieberman said in the newspaper story.

Lieberman said late Friday he was trying to explain in the newspaper interview how the courts have gradually shifted how they measure the stages of a pregnancy _ from the three ``trimesters″ of a pregnancy to a determination of when a fetus is non-viable or viable.

``To me, Roe vs. Wade said that in the stages up to viability (of the fetus), the state basically cannot intervene in a decision a woman makes to go forward with a pregnancy or not,″ Lieberman said, according to The Union Leader. ``But after viability, the state can regulate that choice because the interest of the fetus goes up.″

Lieberman is quoted as saying: ``What has changed is that the court talked in terms of trimesters _ but has viability _ because of the extraordinary advances in medical science _ begun to occur at an earlier age?″

Most abortions occur in the first three months of pregnancy, he said, but viability ``is now in some cases 24 and 25 weeks and in a few cases, a little bit less.″

Abortion rights activist Kate Michelman on Friday praised Lieberman’s record in Congress.

``Senator Lieberman’s history in the Senate is of a senator who has protected and defended a woman’s right to choose,″ said Michelman, president of NARAL-Pro-Choice America.

Those who oppose a woman’s right to choose have argued that advances in science and medicine should take away or restrict that right, she said, adding, ``That would be a wrong and inappropriate use of science.″

Democratic front-runner Howard Dean said Friday that Lieberman’s comments indicated he is ``very much off base and doesn’t understand the science.″

``I think Joe makes the mistake that Republicans do, insinuating himself in the doctor-patient relationship,″ Dean said in an interview with The Associated Press.

Under the original Roe vs. Wade ruling, before a fetus could live outside the womb, the abortion decision was left to the woman and her physician.

Under current law, states can restrict a woman’s right to choose as long as the restriction does not impose ``an undue burden″ on the woman. The court determines what’s an undue burden.

Once a fetus is considered viable, states may prohibit abortion, but have to make exceptions to protect the health or life of the mother.

In 1992, the Supreme Court said in a decision on a Pennsylvania law: ``We reject the trimester framework, which we do not consider to be part of the essential holding of Roe. ... The trimester framework suffers from these basic flaws: in its formulation it misconceives the nature of the pregnant woman’s interest; and in practice it undervalues the state’s interest in potential life, as recognized in Roe.″

In the 1992 case, the court decision reaffirmed the basic findings of Roe protecting abortion choice, but lessened the standards of protection guaranteed to women by Roe.

Although abortion has not been a point of debate among Lieberman and his rivals for the Democratic nomination, the senator said in the newspaper interview he thinks a lot about the issue.

If elected president, he said, ``I’ll follow a policy that makes abortion safe, rare and legal.″

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