Clinton set to roll back Reagan years: The White House signals its determination to reverse Republican policies on abortion and workers' rights

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The Independent Online
MOVING EVER faster to reverse the whole philosophy of the Reagan-Bush years, the Clinton administration this week announced plans for a dramatic new liberalisation of the abortion laws, and served notice it intends to overturn 12 years of Republican policy allowing companies to sack workers who go on strike.

In testimony on Capitol Hill, the Labor Secretary, Robert Reich, gave the first details of the striker-replacement bill which will be sent to Congress later this year. It is designed to reward the labour movement for its support of Mr Clinton during the election campaign and foster greater co-operation between the two sides of industry, which the administration insists is essential for the success of its economic strategy.

Mr Reich blamed the present policy for what he called a 'disintegration of trust' between workers and management during the 1980s. 'You can't create a genuine partnership when one side feels there's a loaded gun aimed at its head.'

The first stage of the new legislation, expected in a few weeks' time, will be an end to the ban on the air traffic controllers' union, which President Reagan imposed in 1981 and which proved a milestone in the continuing decline of the influence of organised labour in the US. Spurred by the example, employers either sacked striking workers or used the threat to do so to break a host of industrial disputes in subsequent years.

More than once a Democrat-controlled Congress tried to reverse the policy. But while the House passed the proposals, they foundered in the Senate amid intensive lobbying by business interests. Even with a Democrat in the White House, this pattern may be repeated. But that controversy will be eclipsed by the probable row over Mr Clinton's intended easing of the country's anti-abortion law.

The White House confirmed this week it plans to seek repeal of the 'Hyde amendment', which since 1977 has barred Medicaid federal funding for poor women to obtain abortions, even when pregnancies arise from incest and rape or when they are deemed medically necessary.

The White House hopes to achieve its goal by omitting the amendment when it sends its 1993-1994 budget to Congress next month. But Henry Hyde, the Republican congressman responsible for the original ban, yesterday predicted the move would trigger a furious battle on Capitol Hill, and said he would seek to reinstate the amendment when the detailed legislation came up for discussion.

Nor will the controversy be confined to Congress. Although polls here show a solid majority of the population in favour of preserving a woman's right to abortion, they suggest public opinion is strongly against the use of taxpayers' money for the purpose. If the ban were lifted, Mr Hyde said, there would be an extra 1 million abortions every year, costing some dollars 200m ( pounds 134m).

But the White House is determined to fulfil a promise made repeatedly by Mr Clinton during the campaign. 'For 16 years, you've had the federal government flat-out prohibiting states from spending money on abortions,' said Mr Clinton's spokesman, George Stephanopoulos, 'whether or not they're medically necessary, whether or not they threaten the life of the mother. The President feels that goes too far.'