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Partial-birth abortion ban approved, faces third veto

WASHINGTON (BP)–The U.S. House of Representatives again voted overwhelmingly to prohibit a gruesome procedure known as partial-birth abortion, but a third, and final, veto from President Clinton apparently awaits.

The House voted 287-141 April 5 in favor of the Partial-birth Abortion Ban Act. Although supporters of the bill garnered nine fewer votes than the last time the House acted on the ban, they still managed a two-thirds majority, the total necessary to override a presidential veto.

The Senate, however, adopted a similar bill in October but fell short of a two-thirds majority.

Twice previously Congress has passed the ban on an abortion method that involves the killing of a nearly totally delivered baby, but Clinton vetoed the bill both in 1996 and ’97. In both cases, the House gained the two-thirds necessary for an override, but the Senate fell short.

Southern Baptist ethics agency head Richard Land said he is “delighted the House has once again overwhelmingly passed a ban of partial-birth abortion, which is a euphemism for infanticide.” He said he is grieved the Senate was unable to pass the ban by a veto-proof margin.

“President Clinton has vowed to veto this measure once again,” said Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “We should all pray that God will convict the president, and he will repent and sign this legislation. If he does not, he will someday answer to a far higher authority than the court of American public opinion for the shameful act of vetoing this legislation.”

Some pro-life advocates already have begun looking forward to next year, when a president who would sign the bill might be in the White House after this year’s election.

“With a pro-life president, we could ban this brutal practice … without needing a two-thirds majority,” said Douglas Johnson, legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee, in a written release.

Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush has said he would sign a partial-birth abortion ban, but Vice President Al Gore, the Democratic candidate, has not.

Opponents of the ban criticized House proponents for election-year politics in bringing it to the floor.

The procedure, which became public knowledge in the early 1990s, is typically performed in the fifth or sixth month of pregnancy. As practiced by some abortion doctors, it 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.

Rep. Charles Canady, R.-Fla., the author of the bill, said during floor debate, “This House has the responsibility to do everything in its power to put an end to this practice which has no place in a civilized society. We cannot in good conscience sit idly by while such deeds are being done under the protection of the law.”

The measure approved by the House is slightly different than previous versions, including the one adopted by the Senate last year. It was modified to address the reason some state bans have been struck down in court. Because some courts have ruled the ban could cover other late-term abortion methods, more precise language was used to distinguish this procedure from others in which the child dies before removal or is dismembered and removed in pieces.

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments April 25 in the appeal of Nebraska’s partial-birth ban that was struck down by the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. Though 27 states have passed bans similar to previous federal versions, only eight are in effect, according to NRLC. Most have been blocked or struck down by courts.

In the latest House action, 209 Republicans, 77 Democrats and one independent voted for the ban.

An attempt by pro-choice members to gain a vote on a bill banning late-term abortions was blocked. The legislation would have allowed exceptions for the procedure to be used for reasons beyond the life of the mother and would not have covered the fifth and sixth months, when most partial-birth abortions are performed.

The vote on the partial-birth ban in the Senate last year was 63-34, but two pro-life senators were absent. The last time the House voted on the ban was in 1998, when the count for an override was 296-132.

There are no verifiable figures for the frequency of such abortions, but it has been estimated the procedure occurs at least 3,000 to 5,000 times a year in the United States.

A new element of the partial-birth abortion debate is the trade in fetal tissue and body parts that has been uncovered in the last year. The procedure has enabled researchers to have access to better tissue than is available through other methods used at abortion clinics, supporters of the ban say.

Clinton and Gore are both members of churches affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention.

Clinton’s 1996 veto of the partial-birth ban prompted Jim Henry, then SBC president, and 11 former convention presidents to ask the president in a letter to “repent of your veto.”

The SBC passed a resolution at its 1996 meeting supporting the legislation and disapproving of Clinton’s veto.

In May 1997, Tom Elliff, then SBC president, and nine former presidents sent a letter to Clinton asking him to reconsider his “continued defense of the killing of living premature babies by the brutal partial-birth abortion method.”