- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 12, 2003

Stop. Before you continue this editorial, take a moment to place your palm on the adjacent column, fingers pressed together. The distance from your index finger to your pinky should be enough to about cover the 3 inches of text in the column. Those 3 inches don't seem like much. But, until the ban on partial-birth abortion becomes a law, those 3 inches are the legal measure of personhood the distance that separates an abortion and an infanticide.

Regardless of how prematurely a child is born, it is considered a constitutionally protected person if, once it is outside of the mother, it shows any sign of life heartbeat, voluntary movement of muscles or respiration. Under the partial-birth procedure, the abortionist makes a partial delivery of the fetus enough to grasp it, to hold it and to kill it. If, before the procedure is finished, the fetus makes it fully outside of the mother a distance of just a few inches the abortion becomes an infanticide.

The procedure is a gruesome one. However, that, in and of itself, is not a sufficient reason for its proscription. After all, many medical operations are gory, cutting and stitching skin and sinew. Regardless of how they are performed, abortions are awful to behold. However, the partial-birth procedure is unique, in that it brings the baby within literally just a few inches of its life.

Those few inches are one of the reasons that the Supreme Court overturned a Nebraska law banning the partial-birth procedure in 2000. In a 5-4 ruling in Stenberg vs. Carhart, the court said the state law was so vague that it could have banned other abortion procedures.

That issue has been dealt with, according to Sen. Rick Santorum, the principle sponsor of the proposed ban. Certainly, it seems specific enough. It defines a partial-birth abortion as "an overt act that the person knows will kill the partially delivered fetus." The prohibition applies when either "the entire fetal head is outside the body of the mother," or when "any part of the fetal trunk past the navel is outside the body of the mother."

Mr. Santorum's bill contains an exception for when the mother's life is in danger. It does not contain a similar exception for the health of the mother, which critics argue is necessary for the ban to pass the constitutional test. Time will tell, since, should the prohibition become law, pro-abortion organizations plan to challenge it in court.

That possibility shouldn't stop Congress from passing the partial-birth ban to the president's waiting signature. Members of Congress have been working for nearly a decade to use a better measure of personhood than the 3 inches that currently separates an abortion from an infanticide. That's more than enough time. Congress should act expeditiously to ban the partial-birth procedure.


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