(CNSNews.com) - Before an emotional audience, President Bush Wednesday signed a law outlawing partial-birth abortions - and promised to defend it in court.
The ceremony took place at 1:45 p.m. in the Ronald Reagan Building.
"Today at last, the American people and our government have confronted the violence" of partial-birth abortion "and come to the defense of the innocent child," Bush said during the ceremony.
"The best case against partial-birth abortion is a simple description of what happens - and to whom it happens," the president noted. "It involves the partial delivery of a live boy or girl and a sudden, violent end of that life.
"Our nation owes its children a different and better welcome," Bush stated.
The ban "reflects the compassion and humanity of America," the president said. "The practice is widely regarded within the medical profession as unnecessary - not only cruel to the child, but harmful to the mother and a violation of medical ethics."
While stating that the facts regarding partial-birth abortion are "troubling and tragic," Bush said that enacting the law affirms "a basic standard of humanity - the duty of the strong to protect the weak."
The president received the loudest applause when he said that the "executive branch will vigorously defend this law against any who would try to overturn it in the courts.
"The most basic duty of government is to defend the life of the innocent," Bush added.. "Every person, however frail or vulnerable, has a place and a purpose in this world. This right to life cannot be granted or denied by government because it does not come from government. It comes from the Creator of life."
Bush quoted the late governor of Pennsylvania, Democrat Robert Casey, who said: "When we look to the unborn child, the real issue is not when life begins, but when love begins."
"This is the generous and merciful spirit of our country at its best," the president noted. "This spirit is reflected in the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003," which he then signed into law.
Estimates on the number of partial-birth abortions performed each year vary widely and are disputed by various interest groups.
Pro-life groups call the procedure barbaric.
"No argument about 'a woman's right to choose' can ever justify, even in the most liberal mind, the brains being sucked from a baby's head in the eighth and ninth months of development," said Dr. James Dobson of Focus on the Family. In his press release, Dobson called Wednesday's bill-signing "a step toward ending our culture of infanticide."
Family Research Council President Tony Perkins hailed President Bush for doing what former President Bill Clinton should have done in 1996 - signing the bill into law. "The view of the American people on this issue has been clear for years, and Washington is finally catching up on the issue," he said in a press release.
Perkins said Wednesday's bill signing "signifies a turning point in the debate over abortion," and he urged Congress to quickly pass the Unborn Victims of Violence Act and the Informed Choice Act. The latter bill would allow tax dollars to pay for ultrasound equipment in pregnancy resource centers around the country.
Concerned Women for America said partial-birth abortion not only kills a baby, it also endangers a woman's health. "There is no excuse for this disregard of a woman's safety," said CWA President Sandy Rios.
Opponents of partial-birth abortion had filed lawsuits to block the bill as soon as President Bush signed it into law.
"The abortion lobby couldn't win in Congress, so they're taking the case to court in hopes that an activist judge somewhere will overthrow the will of the people," said Jan LaRue, CWA's chief counsel. "If judges remain impartial and true to the Constitution, the ban will stand," she added.
Groups that oppose any restrictions on any type of abortion registered their disapproval outside the building where the bill signing took place. The National Organization for Women (NOW) was among the groups taking part in the protest.
"As George W. Bush signs the deceptively named partial-birth abortion ban into law, women's rights activists across the country will be recommitting ourselves to keeping abortion safe, legal and accessible," said NOW President Kim Gandy in a press release.
"We won't stand by silently as this administration attempts to erode our rights," Gandy added.
NOW said the bill President Bush signed Wednesday is the first national restriction on abortion since the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision upheld women's constitutional right to abortion.
Groups opposed to the bill plan to challenge it on the grounds that it would criminalize a medical procedure and doesn't make an exception to protect a woman's health.
See Earlier Story:
Lawsuits Challenge Partial-Birth Abortion Ban (Oct. 31, 2003)
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