- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 5, 2003

President Bush yesterday signed into law a ban on partial-birth abortion, vowing to “vigorously defend this law against any who would try to challenge it in the courts.”

He didn’t have to wait long: Less than an hour after the president signed the legislation passed overwhelmingly last month by a bipartisan majority of Congress, a federal judge in Nebraska issued a limited temporary restraining order against the new law.

The judge questioned the law’s constitutionality and expressed concern that the ban contains no exception for the mother’s health. But White House spokesman Scott McClellan said, “Congress worked to address those issues. We believe it is constitutional.”

In an afternoon signing ceremony at the Ronald Reagan Building, Mr. Bush noted that most Americans oppose the procedure. A recent USA Today-CNN-Gallup poll found that seven in 10 Americans support the ban on partial-birth abortion; 65 percent of House and Senate members voted last month in favor of the bill.

“The wide agreement among men and women on this issue, regardless of political party, shows that bitterness in political debate can be overcome by compassion and the power of conscience. And the executive branch will vigorously defend this law against any who would try to overturn it in the courts,” Mr. Bush said, drawing a standing ovation from about 300 supporters of the ban.

All doctors now risk criminal prosecution if they continue to perform the procedure, in which a late-term baby is almost completely delivered down the birth canal before a doctor pierces the child’s skull and suctions the brain out through a tube.

“The best case against partial-birth abortion is a simple description of what happens and to whom it happens. It involves the partial delivery of a live boy or girl, and a sudden, violent end of that life. Our nation owes its children a different and better welcome,” Mr. Bush said.

“As Congress has found, the practice is widely regarded within the medical profession as unnecessary, not only cruel to the child, but harmful to the mother, and a violation of medical ethics,” Mr. Bush said.

The president used the term “child” or “children” or “person” several times in his brief comments, never referring to the target of partial-birth abortions as fetuses, as do abortion rights supporters. At one point, Mr. Bush said: “Every person, however frail or vulnerable, has a place and a purpose in this world. Every person has a special dignity. This right to life cannot be granted or denied by government, because it does not come from government, it comes from the Creator of life.”

Outside the Reagan building, several dozen abortion rights supporters marched and chanted, some holding signs that said “Keep Abortion Legal.” The new law, however, has no effect on the 1973 Supreme Court ruling known as Roe v. Wade, which established a woman’s right to abort a pregnancy.

But in a ruling less than an hour after Mr. Bush signed the bill, U.S. District Judge Richard Kopf, appointed by Mr. Bush’s father in 1992, issued an injunction that applies only to the four doctors who brought the suit in his district. The ruling, however, could extend beyond Nebraska because the doctors are licensed in Alabama, Georgia, Iowa, New York, South Carolina and Virginia.

“While it is also true that Congress found that a health exception is not needed, it is, at the very least, problematic whether I should defer to such a conclusion when the Supreme Court has found otherwise,” Judge Kopf said.

Besides Nebraska, federal court hearings were held in San Francisco and New York City on similar challenges.

The president’s signature on the bill represented an end to a legislative effort that began after Republicans captured the House in 1995. President Clinton twice vetoed similar bills — passed by majorities in Congress but not by wide enough a margin to override a veto. Mr. Clinton argued that the legislation lacked an exception to protect the health of the mother.

“This bill marks a concerted effort to set back decades of progress in achieving reproductive freedom,” said Gloria Feldt, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, which filed suit against the measure in San Francisco.

Said Kate Michelman, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America: “Today we saw the real George Bush. If we could afford to, we would put that speech on television every day from now until the election. Any shred of doubt that this is the most anti-choice president this country has ever had has been convincingly erased.”

Democratic presidential candidates yesterday forcefully condemned the measure.

Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut said: “Today, the president signs into law a bill that lets the political agenda of right-wing Republicans override the rights and health of American women. This bill broadly threatens the right to choose.”

“Despite what politicians tell you, there is not an epidemic of third trimester abortions in this country,” said former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, a physician. “This kind of legislation serves the sole purpose of chipping away women’s constitutionally protected reproductive rights with the ultimate goal of overturning Roe v. Wade.”

While abortion rights supporters said the new law addresses a rare procedure, Ron Fitzsimmons, former executive director of the Alexandria-based National Coalition of Abortion Providers, said thousands of partial-birth abortions are performed annually.

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