- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 23, 2003

President Bush yesterday vowed to sign legislation banning partial-birth abortion, which he called "an abhorrent procedure that offends human dignity," as Senate Republicans declared they would bring up the issue as early as next month.
"I hope the United States Senate will pass a bill this year banning partial-birth abortion, which I will sign," Mr. Bush said in a speech in St. Louis, indicating the administration's determination to address the issue before Congress takes it up.
The House has passed a ban on partial-birth abortion four times in 1995, 1997, 2000 and 2002. The Senate also approved the legislation twice, but President Clinton vetoed it each time. In both cases, the House voted to override the veto, but the Senate did not.
Now that Republicans have control of the House, Senate and White House, supporters say they have the votes needed to pass the legislation.
"This one is a slam-dunk if there ever was one," said a senior Bush administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
Sen. Rick Santorum, the Pennsylvania Republican who has sponsored past bills to ban partial-birth abortion, said the issue will come up in the Senate "in the next month or two." He predicts that the ban will pass in the Senate.
"It's going to be very close, but I think the votes are still there," he said. The Senate voted 63-34 in 1999 to pass a measure outlawing the procedure.
Freshman Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, said a failure by the Republican Party to move forward on the issue "will be very disappointing to the people who got us here."
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, said a ban on partial-birth abortion is an issue Congress will "address and address fairly early." Mr. Frist, a heart surgeon, on Sunday said the "concept of partial-birth abortion offends the sensibilities of me as a physician. It's a rogue procedure. It's not in the medical textbooks."
Sen. Sam Brownback, Kansas Republican, said the issue may come up as early as February, before Congress becomes mired in budget matters.
Several Republican senators agreed that a ban likely would pass. Sen. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican, said a ban is "enormously popular with the American people."
A USA Today-CNN-Gallup poll last week found that 70 percent of Americans favored a law criminalizing partial-birth abortion.
Under the late-term procedure, a doctor partially delivers a fetus, then punctures the skull with scissors and sucks out the brain with a tube, killing the fetus.
Abortion supporters call the procedure technically called "dilation and extraction" rare, but a report released last week shows the number of partial-birth abortions has more than tripled in the past four years to 2,200 annually.
Addressing abortion opponents by phone, Mr. Bush noted that the crowd gathered on the National Mall for the annual March for Life stood near the memorial to Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence.
"The March for Life upholds the self-evident truth of that declaration that all are created equal, and given the unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. And this self-evident truth calls us to value and to protect the lives of innocent children waiting to be born," Mr. Bush said.
Abortion is set to become a prime issue in the 2004 presidential election. All six declared Democratic candidates attended a dinner Tuesday hosted by NARAL Pro-Choice America, an organization that advocates abortion rights.
Any vacancy on the Supreme Court would further highlight abortion, sure to be a central issue in any battle over Mr. Bush's choice for a new justice.

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