- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 18, 2003

On Wednesday, the Senate wound up an unnecessarily prolonged debate on a gruesome procedure by formally voting to go to conference on the partial-birth abortion bill by a 93-0 vote.

Bills to ban the procedure passed through the Senate by a 64-33 margin in March and through the House by a 282-139 margin in June. Although nearly identical, the two pieces of legislation differed in one important aspect — the Senate bill contained an amendment sponsored by Sen. Tom Harkin expressing the sense of the Senate that the Roe vs. Wade decision “was appropriate and secures an important constitutional right; and … should not be overturned.”

As a consequence, the House immediately requested a conference to reconcile the two bills, a procedure which is often no more than a formality. However, shortly before the August recess, Sen. Barbara Boxer insisted on eight additional hours of debate on whether to send the measure onward. Little additional insight was expected to come out of the prolonged debate, since the issues are well known and the legislative language is clear. Rather, Mrs. Boxer and her faction have hoped that by slowing the measure, they might stall it just enough to stop its passage.

After all, now that the bill has gone to conference — as it should have some time ago — Mr. Harkin’s amendment is almost certain to be stripped out. The revised version of the bill is likely to pass both chambers, especially since a filibuster-proof majority of senators is on record in favor of banning the procedure. President Bush has promised to sign the bill.

That Sens. Boxer and Harkin insisted on spending additional hours on the Senate floor discussing the procedure is a measure of their ideological extremism. The name says it all. The baby, whose viability is almost certain, is delivered within just a few inches of its life and then killed. This cruel procedure is rarely (if ever) medically necessary, most likely accounting for less than 1 percent of abortions performed in the United States each year. Besides, both bills have exceptions for when the mother’s life is in danger. Partial-birth proponents proclaim that fetuses do not experience pain during the operation. That is a questionable assertion, especially thanks to a new scanning technique developed by British obstetrician Stuart Campbell, which shows fetuses just 26 weeks old blinking, yawning and even smiling.

Those smiles are the real reason that the Senate voted to send the ban to conference. At its most basic level, the partial-birth procedure extracts the humanity from both its practitioners and those who permit it to be practiced. As Sen. Rick Santorum, the sponsor of the bill said, “This is an important debate because it puts the true face on the issue of abortion. This is about the taking of a life. This is the killing of a child that would otherwise be born, inches from constitutional protection.”

Moderates and conservatives have worked for almost a decade to put a stop to this procedure. There is neither medical reason nor moral justification for further delay. Congress should push the bill to the president as soon as possible.

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