Thursday, October 2, 2003

The House yesterday passed a bill banning partial-birth abortion, leaving the Senate as the final step to clear the measure for President Bush’s signature.

Senate action is likely to have to wait until after the weeklong break, which begins today.

Such a ban was vetoed twice by President Clinton, but Mr. Bush has said he will sign it.

“This time we have an administration who is willing to take positive action and sign this ban into law,” said Rep. Ron Lewis, Kentucky Republican, before the House passed the bill 281-142.

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Texas Republican, said the bill’s passage was “a victory for humanity,” and evidence of a “pivot” in the nation’s thinking on abortion.

The Senate vote may be delayed because Democratic opponents are demanding a lengthy floor debate on the final bill, a Senate Republican leadership aide said. Supporters, however, are confident that it ultimately will clear the chamber.

The measure would ban partial-birth abortions, except when necessary to save the life of the mother. 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 by a vacuum device.

Some Senate Democrats are angry that the final bill omits language added by the Senate to its version expressing support for Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision that struck down state laws against abortion. Sen. Barbara Boxer, California Democrat, said yesterday that the absence of the language “needs to be discussed” before a final vote.

House Democrats said yesterday that the bill is the first step to overturning all abortion rights.

Pro-choice groups plan to challenge the legislation in court. They and many Democrats say it is just as unconstitutional as a Nebraska ban that the Supreme Court struck down in 2000, saying the procedure is too broadly defined and that the legislation would not allow a partial-birth abortion to protect the mother’s health.

“This bill is a threat to women’s health,” said Rep. Louise M. Slaughter, New York Democrat.

Supporters of such a ban said those concerns have been addressed in the current legislation, in part by providing a more precise definition of the procedure.

The legislation does not include a “health exception” but has a lengthy “findings” section, stating that medical evidence presented in congressional hearings showed that partial-birth abortion poses serious risks to women’s health, is never medically needed and is outside the standards of medical care. Democrats say this section will not hold up in court.

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