- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 20, 2003

Senate Democrats are slowing the progress of legislation banning partial-birth abortion as Senate Republicans try to bring the measure to conference with the House, Republican officials say.

Both chambers overwhelmingly passed bills that would ban the procedure, and now they must be reconciled in conference. The House appointed its conferees, but a Senate Republican leadership aide said Republicans have tried twice in behind-the-scenes talks to appoint conferees, and Democrats have said “no” because they first want to offer procedural motions.

“They’re not letting us appoint. They’ve objected,” the aide said on the condition of anonymity. “Democrats are throwing up roadblocks.”

Sen. Rick Santorum, Pennsylvania Republican and sponsor of the Senate bill, said California Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer wants to offer a nonbinding procedural motion insisting that the final bill contain language supporting the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that struck down abortion laws as violating a right to privacy.

The Senate added the language, sponsored by Sen. Tom Harkin, Iowa Democrat, to its bill before passing the measure 64-33 on March 13.

The House bill, which passed 282-139 on June 4, does not contain the Harkin language, and when the House moved to go to conference it essentially stripped the language from the Senate bill.

Mrs. Boxer wants the language included in the final bill and so does Mr. Harkin, said his spokeswoman, Allison Dobson.

“We believe that the Harkin amendment is extremely important in affirming Congress’s belief that the court was right in Roe and that women have a basic right to reproductive health services,” she said.

But Republican aides and a pro-life lobbyist said the Republican-led conferees would never agree to keep the language in the final bill.

If it is removed, Mr. Harkin, who does not want the bill to become law, is leaving all of his options open, including blocking the final bill by filibuster, Miss Dobson said.

Most Republicans do not like the Harkin language and do not want it in the final bill.

“Apparently they’re trying to pull a maneuver to keep the Roe language in the final bill — something that divides us,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican. “What unites Congress and the public is banning partial-birth abortion. … My hope is that we won’t stop a good bill to play abortion politics.”

Mrs. Boxer would not answer questions on the issue, and calls to her office were not immediately returned.

But in a Roll Call article July 16, Mrs. Boxer said she wants to “make a stand in favor of Roe.”

“I have no intention of filibustering,” she told Roll Call. “But if we keep Roe in, we might be able to stop this bill.”

Other than the Roe language, the House and Senate bills are identical. They would both ban partial-birth abortions except when necessary to save the mother’s life.

In a partial-birth abortion, also known among some in the medical community as dilation and extraction, the baby is partially delivered before its skull is pierced and its brain sucked out.

Mr. Santorum said he is still hopeful about getting the legislation to conference and complete it by the fall. “We just have to get moving on it,” he said.

Many Democrats say the legislation is unconstitutional.

“If it goes to conference, I’d like to see them come up with an alternative that’s constitutional,” said Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat.

Mr. Hoyer pushed an alternative proposal in the House that would have banned late-term abortions except when necessary to preserve the life or health of the mother. He said his version is consistent with the Supreme Court’s ruling that a ban must include an exception allowing the procedure when deemed necessary to preserve the mother’s health.

The House and Senate partial-birth abortion bills do not contain a health exception but a lengthy “findings” section, stating that medical evidence presented in congressional hearings shows that partial-birth abortion is never medically needed.

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