WASHINGTON (BP)–A partial-birth abortion ban acceptable to pro-life advocates awaits final passage by Congress.
A conference committee of members of the Senate and House of Representatives approved Sept. 30 a final version of the Partial-birth Abortion Ban Act minus an amendment opposed by pro-lifers. The conferees removed a nonbonding resolution added in the Senate’s bill that endorsed the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion.
The committee’s action clears the way for Congress and President Bush to enact the first direct, federal restriction on an abortion procedure since Roe v. Wade.
The House is expected to adopt the conference report Oct. 2. It appears Senate opponents of the ban, however, will delay a vote until after a 10-day recess is completed Oct. 13. Bush has endorsed the ban.
Abortion-rights organizations, such as Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the National Abortion Federation, have promised to go to court to seek to block enforcement of the ban if it is signed into law.
If and when the president signs the measure into law, the federal government will have outlawed a gruesome method that involves taking the life of a partially delivered baby. The procedure normally consists of 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 infant’s skull with surgical scissors, then inserts a catheter into the opening and suctions out the brain. This typically occurs during the fifth or sixth month of pregnancy.
Congress twice adopted partial-birth abortion bans in the 1990s only to have President Clinton veto them both times. In both 1996 and 1998, the House achieved the two-thirds majority necessary to override vetoes, but the Senate fell short.
This year, the House approved the ban with a 282-139 vote, while the Senate passed it 64-33. The Senate vote for the Roe resolution was 52-46, with nine Republicans joining 42 Democrats and an independent in the majority.
When the Senate and House approve different versions of the same proposal, a conference committee is appointed to work out the differences. Senate opponents, led by Sens. Barbara Boxer, D.-Calif., and Tom Harkin, D.-Iowa, sought to kill the bill or keep the Roe language in the final version but failed.
Republican conferees from each chamber outnumbered Democrats 3-2. The conferees approved the report in a party-line vote.
It is likely the Supreme Court will make the final determination on the measure’s legality if it becomes law. In 2000, the high court overturned a state law patterned after the federal ban approved by Congress but vetoed by Clinton. The justices 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 drafted a new version that sought 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 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.
The Southern Baptist Convention approved resolutions condemning the procedure in both 1996 and 2002. Last year, messengers easily passed a proposal from the floor calling for Bush to make enactment of a ban on the method a high priority.