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10/9/97 House adopts partial-birth ban; presidential veto again expected

WASHINGTON (BP)–A ban on partial-birth abortions once again has carried the House of Representatives overwhelmingly and once again will go to President Clinton for an expected veto.
The House adopted the Partial-birth Abortion Ban Act 296-132, gaining one more vote Oct. 8 than had been amassed in March. A second House vote this year was required when the Senate adopted a slightly amended version in May of a prohibition on a gruesome abortion procedure done on almost totally delivered babies usually in the fifth or sixth month of pregnancy.
President Clinton has promised to veto the bill for the second consecutive year. He will have 10 days to veto the legislation after it arrives on his desk.
In its May vote, the Senate passed the bill 64-36 but fell three votes short of the two-thirds majority needed to override a veto. The House again easily achieved a two-thirds advantage.
An attempt to override a Clinton veto will not be tried until next year, said an aide to Rep. Charles Canady, R.-Fla., chief House sponsor of the bill. Congress is expected to adjourn in early November. The delay in an override effort will provide supporters additional time to gain votes in the Senate.
“At some point, one has to wonder how anyone could oppose the partial-birth abortion ban,” said Will Dodson, director of public policy for the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “There is simply no reason to oppose the ban except out of full commitment to the abortion industry.”
The president “won’t budge, because he is a political captive of the abortion-on-demand crowd,” said Douglas Johnson, legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee, in a written statement.
The procedure banned by the bill involves the delivery of an intact baby feet first until only the head is left in the birth canal. The doctor pierces the base of the baby’s skull with surgical scissors, then inserts a catheter into the opening and suctions out the brain. The collapse of the skull enables easier removal of the dead child.
The latest estimates are the procedure occurs at least 3,000 to 5,000 times a year. In opposing the bill, abortion advocates previously had contended it was used only about 500 times annually.
Clinton initially vetoed the bill in April 1996. In September of last year, the House overrode his veto by a 285-137 vote. Though the Senate gained three votes from its earlier action, its 57-41 tally a week after the House’s override fell well short of two-thirds.
In May of this year, Southern Baptist Convention President Tom Elliff and nine former SBC presidents sent a letter to Clinton asking him to reconsider his “continued defense of the killing of living premature babies by the brutal partial-birth abortion method.”
Last year’s veto by Clinton, a member of a Southern Baptist church in Little Rock, Ark., prompted Jim Henry, then president of the SBC, and 11 former SBC presidents to ask the president in a letter to “repent of your veto.”
The president consistently has called for language in the bill providing an exception to the ban when a mother’s health is endangered. The American Medical Association, never known for pro-life zealotry, has endorsed the legislation, however. More than 400 physicians, including former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, have said the procedure “is never medically necessary to protect a mother’s health or her future fertility. On the contrary, this procedure can pose a significant threat to both.”
Bill supporters also say the president’s health exception would gut the ban, because the Supreme Court in 1973 defined health for abortion purposes to include “all factors — physical, emotional, psychological, familial and the woman’s age — relevant to the well-being of the patient.”
The bill includes an exception to protect the mother’s life.