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House subcommittee approves new partial-birth abortion ban

WASHINGTON (BP)–A House of Representatives subcommittee has approved a new version of a ban on partial-birth abortion.

The Constitution Subcommittee forwarded the Partial-birth Abortion Ban Act, H.R. 4965, to the House Judiciary Committee by an 8-3 vote July 11. The bill would prohibit an abortion method that involves the killing of a nearly totally delivered baby normally in the fifth or sixth month of pregnancy.

The legislation is not the first time Congress has sought to prohibit the procedure, but it marks a calculated response to a negative ruling by the Supreme Court in 2000. In Stenberg v. Carhart, the high court voted 5-4 to strike down a Nebraska ban on partial-birth abortion.

The new 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’ determination 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 Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission sent Rep. Steve Chabot, R.-Ohio, chief sponsor of the bill, a letter July 10 supporting the measure. With it, ERLC President Richard 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.

Congress twice has approved a partial-birth ban, but President Clinton vetoed the measures in both 1996 and 1997. The House gained the two-thirds majority necessary to override the vetoes, but the Senate fell short.

Nebraska was one of 27 states to enact laws patterned after the federal partial-birth ban.

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