- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 12, 2003

Senate Democrats yesterday tried to change the subject of the partial-birth abortion debate to contraceptives and other issues, but both supporters and opponents of a ban on the procedure expect the Senate will pass the measure this week.
Republicans used a procedural move yesterday to defeat a Democratic amendment that, among other things, would have required hospitals to provide emergency contraception known as the morning-after pill to rape victims.
Michael Schwartz, vice president for government relations at Concerned Women for America, which supports banning partial-birth abortion, said the morning-after pill proposal "takes out of the hands of doctors the right to practice medicine." Mr. Schwartz said this would cause a "crisis of conscience in Catholic hospitals" by forcing them to offer the morning-after pill even if they think it is morally wrong.
The morning-after pill is a high dose of birth-control drugs that prevents a fertilized egg from implanting into the lining of the uterus.
Sen. Rick Santorum, Pennsylvania Republican and sponsor of the partial-birth abortion ban, said Democrats were simply "changing the subject" because they didn't want to discuss his bill, which would ban partial-birth abortion except when necessary to save the mother's life.
In partial-birth abortion also known as dilation and extraction the baby is partially delivered before its skull is pierced and its brain sucked out.
"The time has come to ban this morally offensive procedure," said Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican and a physician.
The Democratic amendment by Sen. Patty Murray, Washington Democrat, also would have provided $10 million per year to educate women on emergency contraception and would have required insurance companies to cover prescription contraceptives if they already cover other prescription drugs.
The Murray amendment would also have extended the government's health insurance program for low-income children to pregnant women. The administration has already extended the program to unborn children, but Mrs. Murray said that "left out the woman," which she finds "reprehensible."
Republicans objected to the amendment on budgetary-policy grounds. This forced Mrs. Murray to move to waive the Budget Act, which requires 60 votes for amendments imposing an expense above budgetary constraints. Her motion only gained a 49-47 plurality.
Meanwhile, opponents of the partial-birth ban bill say it is unconstitutional and would endanger women.
"What this does is, it criminalizes medically necessary procedures," said Sen. Barbara Boxer, California Democrat and staunch opponent of the bill.
But Mr. Santorum replied that there is "overwhelming evidence from physicians all across this country who say it is never medically necessary."
Today, senators will debate another Democratic amendment by Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat that would ban the abortion of a viable fetus unless two doctors certify that continuing the pregnancy would threaten the mother's life or risk grievous injury to her physical health.
The Supreme Court in 2000 struck down a Nebraska law banning partial-birth abortion, but Mr. Santorum said his bill addresses the justices' criticisms of that measure.
Congress twice passed a partial-birth abortion ban but each time then-President Clinton issued a veto. The House overrode the vetoes but the Senate could not.

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