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BAPTISTS VOW TO FIGHT ANY PLAN THAT INCLUDES ABORTION COVERAGE

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The Southern Baptists have declared they will fight any health-care reform plan that includes abortion coverage.

The vote by the nation's largest Protestant denomination Wednesday came one day after first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton refused to rule out dropping abortion coverage as a compromise.About 10,000 delegates to the 137th annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention overwhelmingly approved by a show of hands a resolution backing health-care reform if it does not cover abortions. The vote was not tallied.

Later this month, the 15.4 million-member church will send out 80,000 fliers to 40 churches in key congressional districts urging members to write congressmen who are undecided on the issue, said James A. Smith, director of government relations for the Christian Life Commission.

If abortion is included in a health plan, Smith said, "it would be the most devastating setback since Roe vs. Wade," the Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion.

In the resolution on health care approved on the second day of the three-day meeting, delegates said that despite the denomination's historic mistrust of government intervention, the health-care system needs to be reformed to take care of millions of Americans lacking adequate insurance.

"We feel the issue of justice . . . mandates our calling upon the government at some point at least to attempt to reform," said Tommy Lea, chairman of the convention's Resolutions Committee.

Delegates did not endorse a specific health-care plan but were critical of President Clinton's proposal in several areas. They said the "morally objectionable" parts included provisions for abortion coverage and distribution of con-tra-cep-tives to youngsters without parental consent in public schools.