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Senate passes abortion ban, but margin is not veto-proof

WASHINGTON (BP)–The U.S. Senate passed the Partial-birth Abortion Ban Act by its largest margin to date but fell short of the two-thirds majority required to override an expected veto from President Clinton.
The Senate voted 64-36 May 20 to prohibit a controversial abortion procedure done on almost totally delivered babies normally in the fifth or sixth month of pregnancy. Supporters of the ban hoped to gain three more votes in order to have a veto-proof majority in case of a veto. The U.S. House of Representatives passed the bill in March with a better than two-thirds majority.
The Senate vote came one day after the American Medical Association endorsed the measure. The chief sponsors of the bill agreed to some clarifying language that they called minor in order to gain the AMA’s endorsement.
The vote represented a seven-vote pickup over the last time the Senate took up the legislation. In September of last year, senators voted 57-41 in an attempt to override a Clinton veto. Earlier in the month, the House had gained the two-thirds majority necessary
Despite the failure to reach a two-thirds majority, pro-lifers should be encouraged by the gain in votes, said Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Christian Life Commission.
“Clearly the Senate is more pro-life now than it was eight months ago,” Land said. “I would urge all Southern Baptists to pray specifically for President Clinton that God will turn his heart and convince him to sign this legislation which represents everything decent and good about the United States.
“Pro-life people across America should draw encouragement from this progress and renew their resolve to never rest until legal protection for unborn life has been restored in America.”
The vote followed by nearly three months the admission by Ron Fitzsimmons, executive director of the National Coalition of Abortion Providers, that he and other abortion advocates had provided misleading information in order to protect the procedure. He acknowledged partial-birth abortion is not as rare as he and others had claimed and is not performed primarily on women whose lives or fertility are threatened or whose unborn babies are damaged, a contention Clinton has made.
With such events and further information supporting the advocates of the ban, three senators who voted against the bill last year — Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D.-S.D.; Sen. Robert Byrd, D.-W.Va.; and Sen. Ernest Hollings, D.-S.C. — changed their votes. In addition, new pro-life Republicans also gave the ban additional support.
The vote also came one week after SBC President Tom Elliff released 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.” The May 12 letter was signed by Elliff and nine former SBC presidents.
Last year’s veto by Clinton, a member of a Southern Baptist church in Little Rock, Ark., prompted Jim Henry, then president of the SBC, and 11 former SBC presidents to ask the president in a letter to “repent of your veto.”
The bill includes an exception to protect the mother’s life, but Clinton has said it must include an exception to protect the mother’s health in order to gain his signature.
Clinton’s position has been discredited, Elliff and the former presidents said in their recent correspondence.
It is “well established that there are no cases in which it is necessary to partly deliver a premature infant and then kill her, in order to prevent injury to the mother,” the May 12 letter said. It said more than 400 physicians, including former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, have written that “partial-birth abortion is never medically necessary to protect a mother’s health or her future fertility. On the contrary, this procedure can pose a significant threat to both.”
Bill supporters also say the president’s health exception would gut the ban, because the Supreme Court in 1973 defined health for abortion purposes to include “all factors — physical, emotional, psychological, familial and the woman’s age — relevant to the well-being of the patient.”
The procedure banned by the bill 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. The latest estimates are the procedure occurs at least 3,000 to 5,000 times a year. Abortion advocates had contended it was used only about 500 times annually.
The CLC’s Land said, “Personally, I cannot imagine how anyone could vote against this legislation or veto it. The American Medical Association’s endorsement rips away the last shred of camouflage of those who try to hide behind the bogus ‘health of the mother’ loophole which was always a sham.”
Doug Johnson, legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee, said in a written statement, “The AMA now supports the ban, but Clinton won’t budge, because he is a political captive of the abortion-on-demand crowd.”
The week before the vote on the partial-birth abortion ban, an alternative offered by Daschle went down to defeat by a 64-36 vote. The Daschle bill would have prohibited abortion, by any method, of a “viable fetus unless the physician certifies that continuation of the pregnancy would threaten the mother’s life or risk grievous injury to her physical health.”
Most pro-lifers opposed the Daschle proposal because it would have allowed the doctor to define viability and to certify without review the pregnancy is a risk to the mother’s health.