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House panel gives 19-11 approval to Partial-birth Abortion Ban Act

WASHINGTON (BP)–A House of Representatives committee has forwarded legislation outlawing a gruesome method known commonly as partial-birth abortion.

The House Judiciary Committee voted 19-11 March 26 for the Partial-birth Abortion Ban Act, H.R. 760.

The vote was along party lines, with Republicans in the majority. The full House is expected to pass the legislation easily, which bars a procedure that involves the killing of a nearly totally delivered baby usually in the fifth or sixth month of pregnancy.

The Senate approved a similar bill March 13 by a 64-33 margin.

President Bush has urged Congress to send him such a ban and has promised to sign it into law.

The House version does not include a measure added to the Senate bill on the floor. Senators voted 52-46 for a nonbonding resolution affirming the 1973 Supreme Court opinion legalizing abortion, in effect, throughout all stages of pregnancy and for unlimited reasons. The measure, offered by Sen. Tom Harkin, D.-Iowa, expressed the Senate’s belief that Roe v. Wade “was appropriate and secures an important constitutional right,” and should not be reversed.

Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, called the House committee’s vote “the second in a series of significant steps in the struggle to reassert the sanctity-of-life ethic upon which this nation was founded. … [W]e have been assured that the Harkin amendment will be stripped from the Partial-birth Abortion Ban Act in conference committee, before final approval by the Congress.”

Partial-birth abortion typically 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.

Twice before, Congress approved bans on the procedure only to have them vetoed by President Clinton. In both 1996 and 1998, the House achieved the two-thirds majorities necessary to override vetoes, but the Senate fell short.

In 2000, the Supreme Court overturned a state law patterned after the federal ban. The high court voted 5-4 to strike down a Nebraska ban on partial-birth abortion in its Stenberg v. Carhart opinion. The Nebraska measure was one of 27 state laws patterned after the federal legislation.

Congressional supporters of the ban authored a new version that 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. The bill newly approved by the Senate 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. It includes an exception to protect the mother’s life.

Opponents, however, argue the changes are not sufficient to pass a legal challenge. Some abortion-rights organizations have promised to sue in federal court immediately after Bush signs it into law in order to block its enforcement.

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