- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 18, 2002

Partial-birth abortions would be banned under a bill passed by the House Judiciary Committee yesterday and headed for a vote on the House floor next week.

Rep. Steve Chabot, Ohio Republican, crafted this year's bill to accommodate a 2000 Supreme Court decision that struck down a Nebraska ban on partial-birth abortion as unconstitutional.

But Democrats on the committee said the bill is just as unconstitutional as the Nebraska law and was crafted only to give Republicans an election-year issue to use.

"This is about creating a 30-second ad opportunity for the November elections," said panel member Rep. Zoe Lofgren, California Democrat.

Republicans bristled at the accusation.

"To call this a political gesture, to imply insincerity is a very unfortunate attitude to take," retorted Illinois Republican Henry J. Hyde, a longtime pro-life advocate and former chairman of the Judiciary panel. "That little baby is not a diseased appendix. It is a tiny member of the human family."

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

The bill, approved on a party-line vote of 20-8, 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 been interpreted to ban another commonly performed type of abortion.

Democrats said the new bill still was too broad and could still ban other types of abortions.

The Supreme Court also found the Nebraska ban unconstitutional because it failed 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."

"A moral, medical, and ethical consensus exists that partial-birth abortion is an inhumane procedure that is never medically necessary and should be prohibited," Mr. Chabot said.

But Democrats said without a health exception, the bill is unconstitutional.

"There has got to be a health exception," said the committee's ranking Democrat, Rep. John Conyers Jr. of Michigan. "Even if the bill passed the House and the Senate, the Supreme Court would again hold it unconstitutional. If you don't understand this, we're in bad shape."

Republicans turned back several efforts by Democrats to weaken or alter the bill, including an amendment, rejected 10-18, that would have added a health exception, and a substitute amendment, rejected by voice vote, that would have banned late-term abortions, except when needed to protect the life of the mother or avert "serious adverse consequences" to her health.

Still, Democrats were confident Mr. Chabot's bill would not pass the Senate. Sen. Rick Santorum, Pennsylvania Republican, is working on the issue there.

The Judiciary panel did not have time to consider another bill on yesterday's agenda, which would allow some legal immigrants to the United States who have been deported in the past six years for aggravated felonies to apply for re-entry.

The bill also would allow future felons to ask the Justice Department for a "cancellation of removal" order that would stop their deportation if their sentence is less than two years for violent felonies and less than four years for nonviolent felonies.

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