- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 17, 2002

Even though abortion opponents have a friend in the White House, prospects are dim for Congress to approve one of their top priorities: legislation to ban partial-birth abortion.
When the Supreme Court struck down a Nebraska partial-birth abortion ban in 2000, it established a "real impediment" to passing a partial-birth abortion ban in Congress, said Jeff Lungren, spokesman for the House Judiciary Committee.
Rep. Steve Chabot, Ohio Republican and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee's Constitution panel, said the decision "clearly makes it more challenging" to approve a ban but that discussions are still under way.
Congress repeatedly approved partial-birth abortion bans in the past with bipartisan support but was unable to override vetoes by President Clinton.
With the Supreme Court decision and a Democrat-controlled Senate dimming the prospects, pro-life groups are pressuring President Bush to become more engaged in the fight.
"The American people overwhelmingly abhor the practice of partial-birth abortion," said Ken Connor, president of the Family Research Council. "President Bush has said he would sign the bill; he needs to do more. He needs to lead Congress to outlaw this procedure."
White House spokesman Scott McClellan would say only that the president "strongly opposes partial-birth abortion" and "is committed to working with Congress" to ban it.
The procedure is an abortion in which a late-term fetus is delivered partially before it is killed.
The 2000 Supreme Court decision found the Nebraska partial-birth abortion ban to be unconstitutional, partly because it did not make an exception to protect the health of the mother. Congressional Republicans do not want to include a broad health exception. "You're not accomplishing anything by putting in a health exception that allows partial-birth abortion to continue unfettered," Mr. Chabot said.
But they do not want to pass legislation that would invite the Supreme Court to "slap it down" either, said Michael Schwartz, vice president for government relations at Concerned Women for America. "I don't think the Supreme Court is superior to Congress, but I believe some members of Congress do," said Mr. Schwartz.
Sen. Rick Santorum, Pennsylvania Republican, is evaluating options for the ban in the Senate but does not know whether enough votes will be available. He said some senators who voted for a ban in the past may not do so now in light of the Supreme Court decision. Mr. Chabot said he may push the House to act on a partial-birth abortion ban if the Senate does not act.
The issue has political importance because many urban Catholic Democrats voted for Mr. Bush in the hopes of securing a partial-birth abortion ban, Mr. Schwartz said. "I think it is likely that somehow we'll get a vote in the Senate," said Mr. Schwartz. "The White House is going to be anxious for Santorum to find a way to get a vote on it."
But Mr. Schwartz said a ban on human cloning is a "more pressing issue that I think will capture more attention" this year.
Pro-choice groups are less concerned about Congress restricting abortion rights this year than they are about Mr. Bush appointing a pro-life justice to the Supreme Court.
"We have an administration that's clearly hostile to a woman's right to choose," said Vicki Saporta, executive director of the National Abortion Federation. Miss Saporta said her group is preparing for the potential resignations of one or two Supreme Court justices this spring or summer.
One pending abortion-related measure which likely will be considered by the House Judiciary Committee soon after Congress returns would make it a federal crime to bypass state parental consent and notification laws and transport a young girl across state lines to get an abortion without her parents' knowledge.
Another measure, which passed the House in the spring and was awaiting Senate action, would allow a criminal who assaults a pregnant woman to be charged separately in the death or injury of the woman's fetus.
"It's clearly going to be an uphill battle in the Senate," said Wes Irvin, a spokesman for Sen. Mike DeWine, Ohio Republican and sponsor of a companion bill in the Senate.
"If the pro-abortion Democratic leadership in the Senate blocks them, they will very clearly be blocking bills with great support among the general public," said David O'Steen, executive director of the National Right to Life Committee.

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