THE overwhelming vote in the Senate to make blockades of abortion clinics a federal crime should improve the bill's chances of winning House approval without major changes, supporters say.
``It's a tremendous message. I think they'll match us,'' Sen. Barbara Boxer (D) of California said after the Senate voted Tuesday evening, 69 to 30, to give the Justice Department new powers to stop abortion-clinic blockades and go after violent protesters.
The House is scheduled to debate a similar bill today. Supporters are confident of passage but are worried about amendments by anti-abortion lawmakers that could weaken the measure.
The House is considered more conservative on abortion issues. Still, Democrats in both chambers hope to work out any difference between the two bills and send legislation to President Clinton before Congress recesses for the year at Thanksgiving.
The bill would take effect with Mr. Clinton's signature. Supporters hope to get it in place before the holidays, typically a period of increased violence at clinics, and before the January anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court ruling spelling out a constitutional right to abortion.
In the Senate, supporters picked up backing from many anti-abortion lawmakers who agreed to join the call for an end to a growing wave of clinic violence. A Florida abortion doctor was shot to death earlier this year.
The Senate repeatedly turned back efforts by some anti-abortion lawmakers to soften penalties and change the bill.