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Elliff, former SBC presidents urge Clinton to support ban

WASHINGTON (BP)–The current Southern Baptist Convention president and several former SBC presidents have written the president of the United States for the second time in a year to urge him to support a legislative ban on a controversial abortion procedure.
Tom Elliff, serving his first year as SBC president, and nine former presidents said in a May 12 letter to President Clinton they were writing “to beg you to reconsider your continued defense of the killing of living premature babies by the brutal partial-birth abortion method.”
The letter came as the U.S. Senate prepared again to debate and to vote on the Partial-birth Abortion Ban Act. The bill prohibits what is called partial-birth abortion, a method normally used in the fifth or sixth month of pregnancy. An exception to the ban is permitted to save the mother’s life. The technique involves the almost total delivery of a live baby feet first before a doctor pierces his skull with scissors and suctions out the brain.
The U.S. House of Representatives passed the bill in March with a better than two-thirds majority. Both houses approved the measure in the previous Congress but the president vetoed it in April 1996. While the House gained the two-thirds vote necessary to override a veto, the Senate fell short in September.
It was last year’s veto by Clinton, a member of a Southern Baptist church in Little Rock, Ark., that prompted Jim Henry, then president of the SBC, and 11 former SBC presidents to ask the president in a June 5 letter to “repent of your veto.” In a written response two days later, Clinton said he would support a ban “making crystal clear that the procedure may be used only in cases where a woman risks death or serious damage to her health, and in no other cases.” The letter to the SBC presidents constitutes what is probably Clinton’s most detailed explanation of his stance on the subject.
Clinton’s position has been discredited since his 1996 letter, Elliff and the former presidents said in their recent correspondence.
It is “well established that there are no cases in which it is necessary to partly deliver a premature infant and then kill her, in order to prevent injury to the mother,” the May 12 letter said. It said more than 400 physicians, including former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, have written “partial-birth abortion 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.”
In their letter, Elliff and the former presidents said they could not accept Clinton’s rationale for a health exception as expressed in his June 1996 letter. Even his rationale does not explain the “radically more permissive position” he has taken in communications with Congress, they said.
Clinton’s support for alternatives that would ban the procedure only in the final three months of pregnancy and would allow a much more expansive exception for health reasons has been signaled to Congress, Elliff and the others said. They urged him not to support a proposal by Sen. Tom Daschle, D.-S.D., and the minority leader, that they called a “transparent political sham, which probably would not prevent a single partial-birth abortion.”
The White House indicated May 13 the president might sign the Daschle bill but he prefers one by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D.-Calif., which has a more lenient health exception, The Washington Times reported. The Daschle bill would prohibit abortion, by any method, of a “viable fetus unless the physician certifies that continuation of the pregnancy would threaten the mother’s life or risk grievous injury to her physical health.”
At a May 13 Washington news conference called to release the letter, Elliff said the Daschle proposal “empowers abortion … and empowers an abortionist to perform them at his discretion.” Daschle’s bill has “no substantatived restrictions” and “no enforceable limitations,” National Right to Life Committee Legislative Director Doug Johnson said at the news conference.
When a reporter asked Elliff if it were “painful for you to be dealing with a Southern Baptist president” on this issue, the pastor of First Southern Baptist Church in Del City, Okla., said it is “painful for me to believe anyone within our denomination, the president included, would have such a low view of Scripture and a low view of life that they would believe that it could be taken in a cavalier, nondiscriminatory fashion. That is troublesome to me.”
The former SBC presidents who signed the recent letter are W.A. Criswell, Adrian Rogers, Bailey Smith, James Draper, Charles Stanley, Jerry Vines, Morris Chapman, Ed Young and Henry. They also signed the 1996 letter.
Through an oversight, attempts to contact Franklin Paschall and James Sullivan, two former SBC presidents who signed last year’s letter, were not made until May 12, when the letter was prepared for overnight delivery to the White House. When attempts were made, Paschall chose not to sign this year’s letter and Sullivan could not be reached, a spokesman for Elliff said.
Former SBC presidents Jimmy Allen, Carl Bates and Wayne Dehoney did not sign last year’s letter and were not asked to sign this year’s.
The May 12 letter noted the vast majority of Southern Baptist are pro-life and an “even more lopsided majority oppose partial-birth abortion.” Messengers to the 1996 SBC meeting approved nearly unanimously a resolution condemning partial-birth abortion and urging Clinton to reverse his veto.
In the letter, Elliff and the others also told the president they would “continue to pray for you to receive God’s wisdom as you exercise the life-and-death powers of your high office, which God has allowed you to hold.”
Since last year’s veto and failed override effort, Ron Fitzsimmons, executive director of the National Coalition of Abortion Providers, has acknowledged he and other abortion advocates provided misleading information in order to protect the procedure. He said partial-birth abortion is not rare and is not performed primarily on women whose lives or fertility are threatened or whose unborn babies are damaged, a contention Clinton had made. 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.
Speaking at the recent news conference, Southern Baptist Christian Life Commission President Richard Land said, “We pray that God will change the president’s heart and he will turn back from the dark and deadly path upon which he has embarked.
“I continue to believe that the American people are better than this and that they will insist that their elected representatives do the decent, moral, civilized thing. To believe otherwise would be to conclude that America is no longer a civilized nation, but a pagan one.”
Elliff said after the news conference, “We believe that there is a great wound in the soul of America (from) when we, as a people, endorsed the (idea) that life was something less than sacred. … we believe that the passage of the Partial-birth Abortion Ban Act would in some way (help heal) that wound, but the failure to pass it or to pass it and then to have it vetoed and to fail to override that veto would only deepen the wound in the soul of America. We’re already hemorrhaging. We certainly don’t need to hemorrhage any more morally.”