- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 10, 2002

House Republicans have placed a proposed ban of partial-birth abortion on the fast track, holding a hearing yesterday on revamped legislation and planning to send it to the full House in two weeks.

But witnesses before a House Judiciary subcommittee hearing yesterday, as well as panel members, disagreed sharply over whether the bill could withstand a constitutional challenge.

Rep. Steve Chabot, Ohio Republican and constitution subcommittee chairman, crafted the bill to accommodate a 2000 Supreme Court decision that struck down a Nebraska ban on partial-birth abortion as unconstitutional. But some scoffed at his proposal.

"This bill, as written, is clearly unconstitutional," said Simon Heller, the lawyer who successfully argued the case against the Nebraska ban before the Supreme Court. Mr. Heller, a consulting attorney for the pro-choice Center for Reproductive Law and Policy, called Mr. Chabot's proposal "another vague, overbroad bill" that is "directly defying Supreme Court precedent."

Before the Supreme Court's ruling, Congress twice passed legislation banning partial-birth abortion, only to have the bills vetoed by President Clinton. President Bush said he would sign a bill to ban the procedure.

The panel hopes to vote on the bill Friday, and a leadership aide said Republicans are aiming for House floor consideration in two weeks.

The procedure, usually performed late in pregnancy, allows a partial delivery before the baby is killed.

Mr. Chabot said his bill adequately addresses the high court's concerns.

Robert A. Destro, a law professor at Catholic University of America's Columbus School of Law, agreed, telling the committee, "This case could be won."

The bill would provide a more precise definition of the procedure in order to address the Supreme Court's concern that the Nebraska law also could have banned another commonly performed type of abortion.

Kathi A. Aulltman, an obstetrician and gynecologist with experience performing abortions, said the bill "clearly distinguishes partial-birth abortion from other abortion procedures."

But Mr. Heller said the definition is still too broad.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler, New York Democrat and ranking member on the panel, pointed out that the bill did not limit the ban even to late-term fetuses.

The Supreme Court also found the Nebraska ban placed an undue burden on women seeking abortions by failing to make exceptions in cases where the procedure was deemed necessary to preserve the health of the mother.

Mr. Chabot's bill would ban partial-birth abortion except when necessary to save the life of the mother but does not provide an exception for the health of the mother. Instead, it contains a lengthy "findings" section concluding that, based on the extensive congressional hearing record on the issue, "the facts indicate that a partial-birth abortion is never necessary to preserve the health of a woman, poses serious risks to a woman's health and lies outside the standard of medical care."

"It's not only unnecessary to protect women's health, but it may endanger their health," Dr. Curtis Cook, a specialist in maternal-fetal medicine, said before the panel.

Mr. Heller said the court has made it clear that any bill without a health exception will be struck down.

"We should not play these kinds of silly games," Mr. Nadler told Republicans.

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