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House committee approves ban on partial-birth abortion

WASHINGTON (BP)–The House of Representatives Judiciary Committee has agreed to the latest version of a ban on partial-birth abortion.

On July 17, the committee voted 20-8 in favor of the Partial-birth Abortion Ban Act, H.R. 4965. The mark-up of the bill came on a party-line vote, with Republicans in the majority.

A vote by the full House is expected the week of July 22, a congressional staff member said. While the bill’s supporters are optimistic it will gain House passage, its prospects are not as hopeful in the Senate.

The bill would outlaw an abortion method that involves the killing of a nearly totally delivered baby normally in the fifth or sixth month of pregnancy. Congress twice before approved such a ban, but President Clinton vetoed it both times. President Bush has said he would sign such legislation.

This year’s version, however, marks the first time Congress has sought to prohibit the procedure since a negative ruling by the Supreme Court in 2000. In Stenberg v. Carhart that year, the high court voted 5-4 to strike down a Nebraska ban on partial-birth abortion. The Nebraska measure was one of 27 state laws patterned after the federal legislation.

The new House version seeks to address the court’s contention the Nebraska law could have been interpreted to cover other abortion methods, as well as the justices’ declaration the ban needed an exception for maternal health reasons.

H.R. 4965 provides more specific language on the procedure it seeks to prohibit. It also declares in its findings the method is neither safe for women nor necessary to preserve their health.

The Judiciary Committee rejected six amendments brought by opponents of the bill. The committee voted 18-10 against an amendment to include an exception for the mother’s health. Because of the expansive definition the Supreme Court has bestowed on “health” in its abortion rulings, the amendment would have had the effect of permitting the procedure for virtually any reason a mother offered.

“It’s encouraging that there are still so many of the people’s representatives who are willing to put forth the effort to try to do something to stop this barbaric and grotesque execution of the partially born,” said Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “One cannot help but be saddened, however, to find that there are still duly elected representatives of the American people who oppose putting an end to this barbarism.”

The ERLC sent Rep. Steve Chabot, R.-Ohio, chief sponsor of the bill, a letter July 10 supporting the measure. With it, Land included a copy of this year’s SBC resolution endorsing a partial-birth abortion ban.

At the convention, messengers overwhelmingly approved a resolution calling for President Bush to make enactment of a ban on partial-birth abortion a “high priority.” The resolution was the only one approved by messengers that was not offered by the Resolutions Committee. Rick Reeder, a messenger from Kentucky, presented it from the floor and easily gained the two-thirds majority for consideration.

In his letter, Land called the approach “relatively unusual and demonstrates the depth of feeling among Southern Baptists on the issue of partial-birth abortion.”

The SBC also approved a resolution condemning the procedure in 1996.

As popularized by some doctors, the method 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.

Clinton vetoed the earlier bans in 1996 and 1997. Both times, the House gained the two-thirds majority necessary to override the vetoes, but the Senate fell short.

Partial-birth abortion is literally an “act of child sacrifice to the pagan gods of convenience, social convention and career well-being,” the ERLC’s Land said July 13 on “Richard Land Live!,” which is broadcast each Saturday from noon to 3 p.m. (ET) over the Salem Radio Network.

“As a direct result of Bill Clinton’s veto of the two partial-birth abortion ban bills, somewhere between 15,000 and 25,000 babies that were partially born were killed by having their brain destroyed while the rest of their body was already delivered,” Land said.
Dwayne Hastings contributed to this article.