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Abortion ban gains votes in achieving House passage

WASHINGTON (BP)–The Partial-birth Abortion Ban Act gained its most support yet when it was approved overwhelmingly by the U.S. House of Representatives March 20.

Even though the House lost pro-life members in the 1996 elections, support for the ban increased by 10 votes when it was OK’d 295-136. The vote gave supporters an even stronger two-thirds majority than they achieved last year. A two-thirds vote will be necessary if, as expected, President Clinton vetoes the bill again. Though the Senate gained pro-life members in the elections, it appears unlikely it has a two-thirds majority necessary to override a veto.

In September, the House gained a two-thirds majority with a 285-137 vote. The Senate fell short at 57-41, however, and Clinton’s veto was upheld.

Seventy-seven Democrats joined 218 Republicans in voting for the ban on the procedure, which occurs usually in the fifth or sixth month of pregnancy. Eight Republicans voted against it.

“This is a great victory for the pro-life movement,” said Will Dodson, the Southern Baptist Christian Life Commission’s director of government relations. “The significance of this vote cannot be overemphasized. Despite the fact that there was a net loss of pro-life members in Congress as a result of the 1996 elections, there was a significant net gain in support for the ban on partial-birth abortions.

“Undoubtedly, it demonstrates that the abortion industry has lost credibility in light of the (Ron) Fitzsimmons statements. Furthermore, it demonstrates that when the truth comes out, the truth prevails. We can only hope and pray that President Clinton will take another look at the facts and realize that the facts are against a veto of this legislation.”

Douglas Johnson, the National Right to Life Committee’s legislative director, said in a prepared statement, “President Clinton and some senators are still hiding behind legalistic weasel words and medical misinformation — but the public is starting to realize how politically captive these politicians are to the abortion lobby.”

The House vote came only a month after Fitzsimmons, executive director of the National Coalition of Abortion Providers, told American Medical News and other publications what opponents of partial-birth abortion have been saying for some time: The procedure is not rare and is not performed primarily on women whose lives or fertility are threatened or whose unborn babies are damaged. Instead, Fitzsimmons admitted, the procedure is more commonly performed than abortion advocates have said and mostly on healthy women with healthy children.

The latest estimates are the procedure occurs at least 3,000 to 5,000 times a year. Abortion advocates had contended it was used only about 500 times annually.

“The pro-choice movement has lost a lot of credibility during this debate, not just with the general public, but with our pro-choice friends in Congress,” Fitzsimmons said in the March 3 issue of American Medical News. “Even the White House is now questioning the accuracy of some of the information given to it on this issue.”

Abortion rights leaders should stop the “half-truths” and let legislation take its course, Fitzsimmons told American Medical News.

Clinton vetoed the bill last April, citing a need for an exception when the mother’s health is endangered. For the veto ceremony, he gathered five women who said they had undergone the procedure for health reasons and/or because their children would not have survived. Bill supporters, however, said 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 president continues to maintain he will not sign the bill without a health exception, even though former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop has said the partial-birth procedure actually is dangerous for a woman and her ability to give birth in the future. 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 method is used in the second half of pregnancy, usually by the 26th week.