Partial Birth Abortion Ban OK'd; Awaits Bush's Signature

By Robert B. Bluey | July 7, 2008 | 8:29 PM EDT

( - The U.S. Senate put the final stamp of approval on a bill banning partial birth abortion Tuesday, sending the legislation to President Bush for his signature.

After spending most of the day debating the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act, senators voted 64-34 to accept a final conference report agreed to by the House of Representatives earlier this month.

Bush, who asked Congress to ban partial birth abortion earlier this year, supports the legislation and is expected to sign the bill once it reaches his desk. President Bill Clinton twice vetoed bills banning partial birth abortion in the 1990s.

Republicans used Tuesday's debate to describe the graphic details of the procedure. Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), the only physician in the Senate, called partial birth abortion a "morally reprehensible procedure" that needed to be banned.

"As a board-certified surgeon, I can say without equivocation that partial birth abortion is brutal, it is barbaric, it is morally offensive, and it is outside of the mainstream practice of medicine," Frist said. "Contrary to the claims of its supporters, partial birth abortion is a fringe procedure."

Immediately following the bill's passage, the American Civil Liberties Union announced it would challenge the ban on behalf of the National Abortion Federation. Abortion rights advocates have been planning litigation for months.

Throughout Tuesday's debate, opponents of the bill said it wouldn't hold up in court.

"What we are doing here is passing a piece of legislation that will be signed with great fanfare, and it will be declared unconstitutional across the street [at the Supreme Court]," Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said.

The Supreme Court struck down Nebraska's partial birth abortion ban in 2000. Following the ruling, pro-life advocates worked closely with lawmakers to craft a bill they felt would hold up to a test should it reach the high court again.

"I wouldn't have stood up on the floor if I thought it was going to be constitutionally infirm," Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) told reporters afterward. "I think it meets all the tests set forward by the Nebraska decision."

But other senators criticized the ban for being too broad. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said it runs afoul of the Supreme Court's decision in the Nebraska case because the bill lacks an exception for the health of the mother.

"Because the definition is so loose, the bill will ban and otherwise interfere with perfectly legal, permissible abortion techniques," Feinstein said. "It will also have a chilling effect on doctors, who will be afraid to perform abortions ... for fear they will be subject to investigation and prosecution."

Doctors who perform the procedure face a fine and up to two years in jail, but the bill also states that the ban "does not apply to a partial birth abortion that is necessary to save the life of a mother whose life is endangered."

The bill defines partial birth abortion as "in the case of a head-first presentation, the entire fetal head is outside the body of the mother, or, in the case of breech presentation, any part of the fetal trunk past the navel is outside the body of the mother."

Following the passage of the bill, Santorum told reporters he plans to continue fighting for pro-life legislation, including parental notification and protection for unborn victims.

See Earlier Story:
Senate to Vote on Partial Birth Abortion Bill
(Oct. 21, 2003)

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