- The Washington Times - Friday, March 14, 2003

The Senate yesterday passed a ban on partial-birth abortion, and both sides expect the legislation to be signed by President Bush this year, after a seven-year journey that included two presidential vetoes the Senate could not override.
"It is a victory for the innocents whose lives are brutally terminated by this procedure," said bill sponsor Sen. Rick Santorum, Pennsylvania Republican, after his measure passed 64-33. "It's nice to see that the U.S. Senate, when it sees evil, will do something to stop evil."
The measure would ban partial-birth abortions except when necessary to save the mother's life. In a partial-birth abortion also known as dilation and extraction the baby is partially delivered before its skull is pierced and its brain sucked out.
The House is likely to pass the ban by the end of April, predicted Rep. Steve Chabot, Ohio Republican and sponsor of the House bill. Mr. Bush has repeatedly urged its passage.
Sixteen Senate Democrats voted in favor of the bill, including Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota, who has voted for it in the past as well. Three Republicans opposed the bill Sens. Olympia J. Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine, and Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island.
Democratic presidential hopefuls Sens. Bob Graham of Florida and Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut opposed the ban, as both did last time the Senate considered it in 1999. Sens. John Kerry of Massachusetts and John Edwards of North Carolina did not vote yesterday, but both opposed the ban last time. Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware also did not vote yesterday but supported the ban previously.
Opponents said the bill's passage was a major setback for abortion rights, and groups including NARAL Pro-Choice America plan to challenge the legislation in court as soon as it becomes law.
"It's a major strike, no question, against a woman's right to choose," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat.
Kate Michelman, president of NARAL, said it demonstrates how "devastating" the 2002 elections were in giving Republicans control of the Senate, because "now we have no firewall" to stop anti-abortion legislation.
"There is a war on women," she said. "And we are losing a major battle in the war on women today."
A partial-birth-abortion ban twice passed both houses of Congress but both times was vetoed by President Clinton. The House overrode those vetoes, but the Senate could not muster the two-thirds majority required. In the last Congress, the House passed the ban, but the Senate then controlled by Democrats never considered it.
Mr. Bush plans to sign the bill. In a statement yesterday, the president called partial-birth abortion an "abhorrent procedure that offends human dignity" and commended the Senate for voting to ban it.
"Today's action is an important step toward building a culture of life in America," he said. "I look forward to the House passing legislation and working with the Senate to resolve any differences so that I can sign legislation banning partial-birth abortion into law."
Mr. Santorum's bill and Mr. Chabot's House bill are identical. During debate this week, however, the Senate added a Democratic amendment to the Santorum bill, stating support for Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision that made abortion legal. But Mr. Chabot said the House is not likely to include that language, and Republicans predict that it will be stripped out during conference and will not be part of the bill the president signs.
Opponents of the Santorum-Chabot bill say it is just as unconstitutional as a Nebraska ban that was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2000. But Mr. Santorum and Mr. Chabot said their bill provides a more precise definition of the partial-birth-abortion procedure, thereby addressing the justices' concerns that the Nebraska law also could have banned another abortion procedure in which the baby is dismembered in the womb.
"There is no vagueness here," Mr. Santorum said. "We are clear about this procedure."
Critics such as Mrs. Feinstein say the definition is still vague and will be ruled unconstitutional.
The Supreme Court also found the Nebraska ban unconstitutional because it did not make exceptions when the procedure was deemed necessary to preserve not just the mother's life, but also her health.
The Santorum-Chabot bill does not include a "health exception" but states that medical evidence presented in congressional hearings shows that partial-birth abortion is never medically needed, poses serious risks to women's health and is outside the standards of medical care.
Opponents, however, dismiss those arguments.
"It bans a procedure that women need to have available to them in rare occasions," Sen. Barbara Boxer, California Democrat, said during floor debate this week. "We're talking about a bill that is legally identical to the bill that was declared … unconstitutional by the Supreme Court."
Those who support the ban are also gearing up for a court challenge.
"We will work aggressively to defend this law in court a law that is not only necessary, but eminently constitutional as well," said Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice, a conservative civil-liberties group.
During floor debate this week, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York Democrat, said Americans are more concerned about other issues than partial-birth abortion. She said it was an "inappropriate and unfortunate time for this debate to be occurring."
The last time the Senate voted on a partial-birth-abortion ban was Oct. 21, 1999. The measure passed 63-34, and after Mr. Clinton's veto the four further votes needed to override could not be found. The bill was supported by 48 Republicans, 14 Democrats and one independent. Opposing the measure were 31 Democrats and three Republicans.

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