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Partial-birth abortion ban passes House; Senate next stop

WASHINGTON (BP)–The House of Representatives passed a ban on the procedure known as partial-birth abortion Oct. 2, moving the bill one step closer to becoming law.

The ban passed 281-142 as both sides of the issue engaged in an emotional debate that touched on everything from when life begins to the merits of Roe v. Wade.

The vote fell mostly along party lines. Specifically, 218 Republicans united with 63 Democrats in voting for the ban, while four Republicans and 137 Democrats voted against it.

The vote came just two days after a joint House-Senate conference agreed on a bill. Each chamber has passed a ban already this year, although the two sides had to come together to iron out the differences.

The Senate could take up the bill as soon as Oct. 3; President Bush has promised to sign it.

Twice during President Clinton’s administration, Congress passed a ban only to have him veto it.

Partial-birth abortion involves delivering a baby feet-first, with its head still positioned in the birth canal. A doctor then punctures the skull and suctions the brain, killing the child.

Those opposed to the ban have said they will sue immediately, claiming that the bill is unconstitutional because it does not include an exception for a woman’s health. Opponents counter by saying the procedure is never necessary and that a health exception would render a ban meaningless.

It is likely that the bill will end up before the U.S. Supreme Court, which in 2000, struck down a Nebraska partial-birth abortion ban by a vote of 5-4.

“Once again we are confronted with a situation where the Congress is going to do the right thing and the president is going to do the right thing, and it may very well be nullified by un-elected judicial tyrants in black robes,” said Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

Land said Americans must “rein in the runaway freight train that is the federal judiciary.

“I can think of few better poster issues to do so than judges saying that an American woman and her doctor have a right to kill a partially born, often viable, sometimes full-term baby. That is monstrous; it is pagan, and the American people are taking a significant step by demanding that it stop by passing this legislation.”

Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Texas, who was a practicing obstetrician and gynecologist for 21 years, said during floor debate that the only reason the procedure is used is “to ensure that a baby is dead when it’s delivered.”

“It’s repulsive, it’s unnecessary and fortunately it will soon be illegal,” he said.

But Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., argued that the bill is unconstitutional and will stop nothing.

“This bill will not prevent any abortions,” he said. “The bill will prohibit a procedure. The abortion can still take place using another procedure.”

Rep. Christopher Smith, R-N.J., took partial-birth abortion opponents to task for what he said was inconsistent logic. Some opponents argue that the bill won’t prevent a single abortion, while others argue that it “would ban all abortions after 12 weeks,” he said.

“The other side can’t have it both ways,” he said.

Rep. John Sullivan, R-Okla., noted the significance of the moment.

“This year, our president, President Bush, will sign this bill into law, making it the first abortion-limiting law on the books since Roe vs. Wade was enacted,” he said. “This is truly an historic moment and milestone for the rights of the unborn.”

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