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President Bush signs first restriction on abortion since ’73 Roe v. Wade decision

WASHINGTON (BP)–President Bush signed into law Nov. 5 the Partial-birth Abortion Ban Act — the first restriction on a particular procedure since the Supreme Court legalized abortion 30 years ago.

Bush’s signature marked the enactment of a ban that was first introduced in Congress in 1995 and vetoed twice by former President Clinton.

“The facts about partial-birth abortion are troubling and tragic, and no lawyer’s brief can make them seem otherwise,” Bush said before signing the bill. “… The executive branch will vigorously defend this law against any who will try to overturn it in the courts.”

In a comment that elicited perhaps the most applause, Bush said the “right to life cannot be granted or denied by government, because it does not come from government. It comes from the Creator of life.”

A federal judge in Nebraska issued a temporary restraining order against the new law within an hour after the president signed it, according to the Associated Press. The order applies only to the four doctors who brought the suit. Federal courts also were considering challenges to the law in New York and San Francisco, AP reported. The U.S. Supreme Court likely will rule on the law. It already has struck down a state ban that has some differences with the latest federal version.

Abortion-rights organizations, including the National Abortion Federation and Planned Parenthood Federation of America, stood ready to seek a court order blocking enforcement of the ban upon its signing. The U.S. Supreme Court likely will rule on the law. It already has struck down a state ban.

The new law outlaws a procedure that has been a focus of much of the abortion debate during the last decade. It prohibits a method that involves the killing of a nearly totally delivered baby.

“Today is a landmark day in the long struggle to rekindle the vibrant flame of the sanctity of life ethic upon which this nation was founded,” said Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “Passage of this bill is the best of news for all Americans — first, for the unborn, who will have at least some marginal protection at the very moment before birth, and second, for all citizens, since God is not going to bless a nation that countenances the barbaric and heinous act of partial-birth abortion.”

The procedure, named “dilation and extraction” by a doctor who helped develop it, 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. The collapse of the skull provides for easier removal of the baby’s head. This typically occurs during the fifth or sixth month of pregnancy.

In October, Congress gave final approval to the ban. The Senate voted 64-34 for the bill; the House of Representatives, 281-142.

Congress twice adopted partial-birth abortion bans in the 1990s only to have Clinton veto them. 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 Nebraska law patterned after the federal ban approved by Congress but vetoed by Clinton. The justices voted 5-4 to strike down the law in its Stenberg v. Carhart opinion. The Nebraska measure was one of 27 state laws patterned after the federal legislation.

The justices’ ruling prompted congressional supporters of a ban to draft a new version that sought to remedy the high court’s ruling that the Nebraska law could have been interpreted to cover other abortion methods. Supporters also sought to address the justices’ declaration that the ban needed an exception for maternal health reasons. The latest bill provides more specific language on the procedure it seeks to prohibit. It also declares in its findings that 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 partial-birth abortion ban a high priority.
Baptist Press will carry an extended report on President Bush’s signing of the Partial-birth Abortion Ban Act tomorrow.