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Senators again fail to override veto of partial-birth abortion ban

WASHINGTON (BP)–The U.S. Senate again failed in its attempt to override President Clinton’s veto of a ban on a gruesome abortion procedure.
Senators voted 64-36 Sept. 18 in favor of the override of Clinton’s veto of the Partial-birth Abortion Ban Act but fell three votes short of the two-thirds majority necessary.
Clinton’s diminished credibility, because of his admission of misleading the public about an adulterous relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky and because of the resultant report to Congress by independent counsel Kenneth Starr, did not help supporters of the ban. It was the same vote total the Senate accumulated when it last passed the bill in May 1997. No senators changed their votes.
The U.S. House of Representatives voted 296-132 July 23 in favor of overriding the veto. It is the second time in two years the House has achieved a two-thirds majority but the Senate has not. The president vetoed the bill for the second time last October.
The head of the ethics agency of Clinton’s own denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, said Clinton bears “sole responsibility” for the continuation of a “barbaric practice.”
The fact several thousand late-term babies a year “will be turned around and born feet first so that all but their heads are delivered and their brains then destroyed, snuffing out their lives before their head is expelled from their mother’s body, must be laid directly at the feet of one man, the president of the United States,” said Richard Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, after the Senate vote. “By his repeated veto of legislation ending this barbaric practice, he has assumed sole responsibility for this continued slaughter. … I continue to pray for the president, both because I am commanded to by Scripture and because some day he will answer to a far higher authority than the court of public opinion for his despicable actions in this matter.”
Clinton is a member of Immanuel Baptist Church in Little Rock, Ark.
The legislation would have prohibited a procedure performed on almost totally delivered babies normally in the fifth or sixth month of pregnancy. The method 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.
There are no verifiable figures for the frequency of such abortions, but estimates are the procedure occurs at least 3,000 to 5,000 times a year in the United States. In opposing the bill, abortion advocates previously had contended it was used only about 500 times annually.
In vetoing the bill twice, Clinton has called for an exception to protect the mother’s health, saying in 1997 it is needed for “the small group of women in tragic circumstances who need an abortion performed at a late stage of pregnancy to avert death or serious injury.”
The American Medical Association, however, endorsed the legislation before his veto last year. More than 400 physicians, including former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, have said the procedure “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.”
In addition to the procedure being unnecessary, 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 ban includes an exception to protect the mother’s life.
Clinton initially vetoed the bill in April 1996. In September of that year, the House overrode his veto by a 285-137 vote. Though the Senate gained three votes from its earlier passage of the bill, its 57-41 tally a week after the House’s override fell well short of two-thirds.
In May 1997, Tom Elliff, then Southern Baptist Convention president, and nine former SBC 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.”
The 1996 veto by Clinton prompted Jim Henry, then SBC president, and 11 former SBC presidents that year 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 first veto.