House Set to Pass Partial-Birth Abortion Ban

By Lawrence Morahan | July 7, 2008 | 8:28 PM EDT

( - The House of Representatives Wednesday is expected to pass a ban on "partial-birth abortion," but the measure is unlikely to reach President Bush's desk this year because of opposition in the Democratically-controlled Senate, observers said.

With 154 co-sponsors in the House, the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act (HR 4965) is expected to pass by a wide margin and with bi-partisan support. But in an election year, the issue is unlikely to be taken up by Senate Democrats, most of whom support abortion rights and are against a ban on partial-birth abortion.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), who previously voted for the ban, signaled he would not support the bill that is about to pass in the House, and is not likely to make any effort to find space on the legislative calendar to take it up in the Senate.

"I voted for it last time because I felt the only way to resolve this matter was to resolve it in the courts," Daschle told reporters Wednesday. "And it was resolved in the courts the first time. I'm told that this may be a similar issue in that it may not be in keeping with court interpretation of the rights of a woman."

Congress approved bans on partial-birth abortion twice before, in 1996 and 1997, but President Bill Clinton vetoed them. On each occasion, the House voted to override the vetoes, but supporters fell short of the necessary two-thirds majority in the Senate.

The procedure, which is legal, refers to abortions of babies in their second and third trimesters. The procedure calls for the baby to be partially delivered before its skull is crushed with surgical scissors while still in the uterus, then removed.

Opponents say the procedure is akin to infanticide and has no medical justification.

"Here you're dealing with an infant who's only inches from that status of live birth when killed in this brutal fashion," said Douglas Johnson, legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee.

"It really does, as the bill itself says, blur the line between infanticide and abortion, and it really is medically, completely unjustified. There is no circumstance in which it is necessary to do this to protect a woman's life or health," he said.

In 1999, the last time the Senate dealt with the issue, 63 senators voted to pass the ban. Fourteen Democratic senators supported the bill on that occasion; four Republicans opposed it. Following a Clinton veto, the Senate was unable to muster the 67 votes needed to override.

President Bush supports a ban on partial-birth abortion, so veto override margins are no longer necessary.

Senate Republicans also are eager for House passage so they can take up the issue.

"We do think that partial-birth abortion is a procedure that should not be allowed to stand," Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott (R.-Miss.) said Wednesday.

Calls to Planned Parenthood and The National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League (NARAL), which support the procedure, were not returned. On its website, NARAL told its subscribers the procedure is being unfairly targeted.

"Opponents of choice have been using inflammatory rhetoric about ?infanticide? and ?partial-birth? abortion in a nationwide strategy to further their goal of ending legal abortion," NARAL said.

"These legislators and advocates say they are trying to ban only one abortion procedure, but the vague and broadly worded legislation indicates another motive: they want a political tool to use against women and politicians to undermine support for the freedom to choose," NARAL said.

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