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Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, is happy to show off a pair of shiny silver spurs that pro-life activist Phyllis Schlafly gave him symbolically to spur Congress against abortion.

"But I'm afraid there won't be much chance to use them in the near future," Hatch laments. And he is a point man on the issue as the new ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which would oversee most abortion bills.Hatch sees tough years ahead for the pro-life movement because the Supreme Court refused this week to hear an abortion ban case, President-elect Clinton has vowed to appoint only pro-choice justices, and Congress is heavily Democratic and pro-choice - likely giving liberals power to pass the Freedom of Choice Act.

"The issue is all but gone in the sense of the Congress and the president. But I think the people out there have a different perspective. I think they are about equally split on abortion, and for them the issue won't just go away," Hatch says.

"When you get beyond allowing abortion in cases where the life of the mother is threatened, or rape, incest or serious deformity, then people become pro-life again. Polls show they don't favor abortion for such things as sex selection or population control or other reasons."

Hatch even says he sees American allowance of abortion as a sign that the nation is dying spiritually and morally.

"I am concerned that our nation is moving away from its Judeo-Christian heritage into nonspiritual realms," he said. "One sign of spiritual poverty is when we value human life so poorly. That's not the only thing. We are keeping any talk of religious notions out of schools and public debates."

But Hatch isn't throwing his anti-abortion spurs away yet, and he sees some rays of hope remaining for pro-life activists.

For example, he foresees more Supreme Court cases on how far states may go to restrict abortions - even if it will not allow them to ban abortions outright, as it made clear this week when it refused to accept a case on an abortion ban in Guam that a lower court overturned as unconstitutional.

Hatch said the court did make clear in a Pennsylvania case earlier this year that states can place restrictions on abortions. "That will lead to many more cases - maybe even one on the Utah law - to test the limits of those restrictions."

Hatch added, "The court tried to resolve the abortion issue with that (Pennsylvania) case, but I think it did a lousy job. It was a major cop-out. It didn't settle anything."

Hatch is also upset that Clinton has vowed to nominate only justices who are pro-choice - and Hatch would likely lead a chorus of Republican protest on that whenever a Clinton nominee reaches the Judiciary Committee for confirmation hearings.

"Remember the outrage from the liberal press when they thought - but couldn't prove - that Reagan and Bush had a litmus test for nominees on abortion?" he said. "Why is it wrong for Reagan and Bush to have one against abortion, but be good for Clinton to have one for it? Where is the outrage now?"

Hatch says he doesn't believe Reagan and Bush actually had such a litmus test, "which I think is shown by the way the court has ruled." He also says it is irresponsible to require a justice to pledge to rule a certain way on potential cases before they are ever heard.

Still, Hatch says that alone is not enough to make him vote against a nominee. "No views on a single issue should stop a person from serving if they are otherwise qualified," he said.

But Hatch predicts coming action on abortion-related issues will be fairly one-sided toward pro-choice stances, and that debate will largely ignore religious or moral arguments.

The situation has him quoting a Democrat, John F. Kennedy. "He said in 1963 in his State of the Union address that the country cannot afford to be materially rich and spiritually poor. . . . We are moving toward spiritual poverty."