- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 4, 2003

Let the House work its will

The Washington Times editorial is correct: The Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003 (H.R. 760), which was to be considered yesterday in the House of Representatives, would prohibit doctors from performing one specific medical procedure (“Neither medical reason nor moral justification,” Tuesday).

However, even the lead sponsor of a companion measure in the Senate has admitted that it may not prevent a single abortion because other procedures are available. Furthermore, unlike the Late Term Abortion Restriction Act (H.R. 809) — bipartisan legislation that attempts to seize what common ground exists on this issue — it is blatantly unconstitutional.

Just three years ago, in Stenberg vs. Carhart, the Supreme Court ruled that a Nebraska law proscribing partial-birth abortions was unconstitutional because it (1) lacked a requisite exception for the preservation of the health of the mother and (2) impermissibly placed an “undue burden” upon a woman’s right to choose an abortion procedure that is commonly used before fetal viability.

Writing for the court in Stenberg, Justice Stephen G. Breyer stated: “[W]here substantial medical authority supports the proposition that banning a particular abortion procedure could endanger women’s health, [Supreme Court precedent in Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pa. vs. Casey] requires the statute to include a health exception when the procedure is ‘necessary, in appropriate medical judgment, for the preservation of the life or health of the mother.’”

In brazen defiance of that holding, H.R. 760 eschews an exception to protect the health of the mother. The bill, introduced by Rep. Steve Chabot (Ohio Republican) and supported by the GOP leadership, even attempts to change the facts upon which Stenberg was decided. It states, for example, that partial-birth abortion is never medically necessary to preserve the health of the woman — an assertion disputed by medical professionals — and rejects findings that partial-birth abortion may, in some cases, be the safest procedure for some women.

In the height of irony, even proponents of this legislation question whether it will have its desired effect. After the Senate passed a partial-birth abortion ban in March, the New York Times reported that Sen. Rick Santorum (Pennsylvania Republican) “said he did not know if the ban itself would prevent a single abortion but that he believed the public awareness raised by the debate ‘has stopped many.’”

In sharp contrast to H.R. 760 and the Senate-passed bill, the Late Term Abortion Restriction Act focuses on when abortions are performed rather than how they are performed. It does not eliminate a particular procedure, nor does it intrude on the practice of medicine. Instead, it would prohibit all late-term abortions, regardless of medical procedure used, so long as there are exceptions for the life and the health of the mother.

Specifically, this bipartisan bill would permit a late-term abortion when, in the medical judgment of the attending physician, it is necessary to preserve the life of the woman or to avert serious adverse health consequences to her. Thus, this bill is consistent with the Supreme Court’s ruling in Stenberg. Furthermore, it resembles laws in 41 states that prohibit abortion after viability under specified circumstances.

Opponents of this bill argue that the exception to protect the health of the mother gives the attending physician wide discretion in deciding whether an abortion is necessary. However, the bill’s language — to “avert serious adverse health consequences” — is tailored to ensure that only those late-term pregnancies that pose a genuine threat to the mother’s health may be terminated.

The Late Term Abortion Restriction Act is carefully crafted, constitutional and bipartisan legislation that seeks to seize what common ground exists on this important issue. After years of denying the proponents of this bill the chance to vote on it, the GOP leadership finally appeared willing to give the members of the House that opportunity yesterday.

On this, perhaps the most divisive social issue in America, fairness dictates that much. Democracy demands it.

STENY H. HOYER

House Democratic Whip

Washington

Nothing elusive about Saddam’s guilt

Steve Chapman (“Elusive quest for the truth,” Commentary, Tuesday) says that “why a thug regime that defied the United Nations for years would be so fastidious about eliminating all evidence of guilt … is a … mystery” and adds that “maybe Saddam Hussein didn’t have the arsenal that Bush told us about.”

No, the mystery is why, if Saddam had gotten rid of his weapons of mass destruction, he didn’t simply document that fact to U.N. satisfaction rather than submit his country to U.N. sanctions, forgo billions in oil revenues and subject Iraq to a war of liberation.

Indeed, all Saddam had to do was comply with U.N. Security Council Resolution 1441 and disarm, issue a truthful weapons declaration, demonstrate that stockpiles had been destroyed, etc., and he most likely would have remained in power and with sanctions against Iraq lifted.

The fact that Saddam Hussein cannot be found does not mean he never existed, and the fact is that we went to war not because he necessarily still had the weapons he used against the Kurds and the Iranians, but because he never cooperated with U.N. resolutions demanding that their destruction be done under international supervision and be fully accounted for.

What about the arsenal U.N. arms inspector Hans Blix told us about? U.N. inspections in the 1990s proved that Iraq had such weapons, including 30,000 liters of anthrax. In 1991, after its defeat in Desert Storm, Iraq presented to the United Nations Special Commission a list of banned weapons, including some 10,000 nerve gas warheads, 1,500 chemical weapons, 412 tons of chemical weapons agents, 25 long-range missiles and more.

Saddam failed utterly to comply with the terms of Resolution 1441, first issuing a bogus declaration Dec. 7; the Security Council was briefed on the inadequacy of that declaration on Dec. 19. Mr. Blix again briefed the council Jan. 9, highlighting Saddam’s noncooperation. It was, in short, the failure of Saddam to take advantage of the “final opportunity” afforded him by 1441 that led the United States to war.

Resolution 1441 demanded that the weapons be accounted for or there would be “serious consequences.” That’s why we went to war and why the war was justified.

DANIEL JOHN SOBIESKI

Chicago

Weighing the death penalty

Nat Hentoff attacks the death penalty — again (Op-Ed, Monday, “Evolving standards of decency”). Unfortunately, he uses incomplete statistics to address the issue. Amnesty International, in its accustomed attack on American culture, says 12 percent of the nation’s population is black, while one-third of those executed are black. That is interesting, but of course, the real question should be: What percentage of accused murderers are black? (A collateral question of interest: What percentage of murder victims are black?) We are again reminded that statistics don’t lie, only the quoters of statistics, as they decline to complete the picture.

The next question is one he fails to address: Is the death penalty a deterrence to crime? Or, to put the question in context: Is anything a deterrence to crime? Fines, jail time, probation? Because the answer surely is yes, we ask why the death penalty could be the only punishment that is not a deterrence to crime. We even can make the proposition that the death penalty indeed saves lives.

The third question: Has there ever been a person executed who was later found innocent of the crime? We are inundated with stories of persons saved from death row (thus proving that the system actually works), but we wonder why Mr. Hentoff and company have not made us aware of such miscarriage. We haven’t heard from them.

The final question probably is unfair because it is theological in nature, and I am unaware of any theological aspects of Amnesty International or its followers. But here goes: What is the nature and import of death? Is it the end of all or, as most religions that acknowledge the existence of God believe, is it a transition to life eternal? If the good Lord has ordained that each of us must die, many “unfairly,” how does the death penalty fit into this theology? Or any theology?

The reader will note that this letter provides no answers, only questions. That probably is because I agree with Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who pointed out the imperfect rationalities of juries, of which racial attitudes were only one. God help us to combine justice with mercy in a manner acceptable to Him — or even to Amnesty International.

WILLIAM M. STELL

McLean, Va.

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