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Senate OKs partial-birth abortion ban but again misses veto-proof majority


WASHINGTON (BP)–The U.S. Senate again voted decisively to prohibit a hideous method of abortion but also again failed to accumulate the votes needed to override a presidential veto.
Senators approved in a 63-34 vote Oct. 21 the Partial-birth Abortion Ban Act, which would outlaw a procedure that involves the killing of a nearly totally delivered baby. The House of Representatives, which has compiled better than two-thirds majorities for the bill in two previous sessions, is expected to vote on the legislation early next year.
Additionally, in a vote on a non-binding amendment to the legislation, the Senate approved 51-47 a resolution saying the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion was “an appropriate decision” and should not be rescinded by the Supreme Court.
It is the third time Congress and President Clinton have battled over this legislation. In 1996 and 1997, the president vetoed the bill, despite strong majorities in both houses. Both times the House gained the two-thirds majority necessary to override a veto. The Senate, however, fell short on both occasions. In its last override attempt, September 1998, the Senate tally was 64-36, three votes short of a two-thirds majority.
The procedure that would be prohibited by the bill became public earlier in this decade and 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.
During the debate on the ban, references were made to new information documenting a secretive trade in fetal tissue and body parts. The partial-birth procedure has enabled researchers to have access to better tissue than through other methods used at abortion clinics, supporters of the ban say.
“Clearly, the pro-death forces in the United States have defended partial-birth abortion with great vigor because they cannot grant that at any point in the human gestation process that the fetus is a human being, even when it’s a fully developed, viable baby, as many of these poor helpless children are,” said Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “But now it has come to light that there is another compelling reason for the strong and relentless defense of the indefensible in partial-birth abortion — a lucrative and growing traffic in the sale of the organs and body parts of these perfectly normal, healthy, viable babies who are killed and then have their tissue and organs sold on order from biotech labs and research institutes.
“If President Clinton had not vetoed the partial-birth abortion ban twice, thus overriding the clear will of the Congress as represented by their passage of this bill by significant bipartisan majorities, this unspeakable trafficking in human body parts of our smallest citizens would be largely eliminated, because the partial-birth abortion cause of the death of these children would have been outlawed.”
Abortion advocates decried the vote, with Kate Michelman saying in a written statement women “must now look once again to President Clinton to protect their rights and their health, as well as to pro-choice senators to sustain his expected veto.” Michelman is president of the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League.
Land called for prayer for Clinton.
“All Christians and people of good will should pray that the president will change his heart and mind and allow the congressional ban on partial-birth abortion to take effect,” Land said. “If he does not, we should still pray for the president, both because we’re commanded to by Scripture and because unless he repents of this despicable veto, he will someday answer to a far higher authority than the court of American public opinion for his actions.
“We must also pray for our nation, because unless we put an end to this killing of our smallest citizens, God will judge us catastrophically.”
Supporters of the ban actually gained a vote, though it is not reflected in the total. Two of the bill’s backers, Sens. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire and Connie Mack of Florida, were absent. The roll call showed ban supporters netted a gain of one vote from last year’s elections.
In addition to 48 Republicans and an independent, 14 Democrats voted for the ban. Three Republicans joined 31 Democrats in voting against it.
The resolution on Roe v. Wade was approved by a combination of 43 Democrats and eight Republicans. Two Democrats joined 44 Republicans and an independent in opposing it.
The resolution, which has no legal impact, “is hardly a ringing endorsement of legal abortion on demand,” said Douglas Johnson, legislative director for the National Right to Life Committee, in a prepared statement. It “will not survive House and conference-committee action on the bill,” he said.
Vice President Al Gore used the Roe v. Wade vote to promote his candidacy for the presidency. The close vote shows “what is truly at stake in this election,” Gore said in a written statement. If elected president, he “will always, always defend a woman’s right to choose,” Gore said.
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.”
There are no verifiable figures for the frequency of such abortions.
Twenty-seven states have passed partial-birth prohibitions similar to the federal one, but only eight are in effect. Nearly all of the others have been struck down or blocked by courts.