- The Washington Times - Monday, September 15, 2003

Republicans believe they have cleared the last hurdle to passing a ban on partial-birth abortion, with the Senate expected to send the measure this week to be finalized in a conference with the House.

“At this point, I think we’re just about as locked in as anyone can be on getting this to the president,” a Senate Republican aide said.

Under an agreement reached with Democrats in July after much delay, the Senate will have eight hours of debate this week and then vote on a motion by Sen. Barbara Boxer, California Democrat. After that, the measure will go to a House-Senate conference.

The motion, which likely will come to a vote Thursday, essentially would insist on language supporting Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision that struck down state laws against abortion.

The Roe language, crafted by Sen. Tom Harkin, Iowa Democrat, is the only difference between the House and Senate bills. When the House moved to go to conference, it insisted on its own version of the bill without the language.

“The … language is being stripped out of the bill,” Mrs. Boxer said during debate on the issue, which started last night. “I want the Senate to disagree.”

Mrs. Boxer insisted on the Senate vote this week, which she wants to highlight which senators support the Roe language and which do not, Republican aides said.

Republicans, however, have a strategy to take the steam out of her effort.

“We’re going to support her motion,” the Senate Republican aide said, adding that Republicans will treat Mrs. Boxer’s proposal as a routine motion to go to conference. “This ensures the other side can’t play politics with the partial-birth abortion ban.”

“The goal is to get to conference,” a Senate Republican leadership aide said. “Once this gets into conference, all this is going to be worked out.”

A Senate Democratic aide said Democrats “don’t have the votes to keep this in limbo and out of conference.”

Republicans say there is no question the Harkin language will be removed in conference. Because both bills passed with broad bipartisan support, they said, the final conference report likely would be approved in both chambers as well.

Senate Democrats could filibuster the final bill when it returns from conference, but that would put them in the tough position of blocking a measure that most Americans support.

“That would be wonderful,” the Senate Republican aide said, “to have the story headlines being ‘Democrats filibuster the partial-birth abortion ban.’”

The aide said Senate supporters of the measure have the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster anyway.

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

Some Democrats say the legislation is unconstitutional and part of an underlying effort to ban all abortion.

“It is their intention to overturn Roe v. Wade,” said Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat.

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