House Approves Bill Banning ‘Partial-Birth’ Abortions
The House yesterday "overwhelmingly" approved 282-139 a bill (HR 760) that would ban so-called "partial-birth" abortion except when necessary to save the life of the woman, a move that places the antiabortion movement "on the brink of a major victory," the New York Times reports (Toner, New York Times, 6/5). The bill defines partial-birth abortion as a procedure in which a fetus is partially delivered alive and a physician performs "an overt act that the person knows will kill the partially delivered living fetus." The ban, which does not include a health exception, would apply when the "entire fetal head is outside the body of the mother or, in the case of breech presentation, any part of the fetal trunk past the navel is outside the body of the mother." If the measure becomes law, doctors who perform the procedure could face fines and prison sentences of up to two years. The measure is similar to legislation passed in March by the Senate (S 3), except that it does not include a nonbinding resolution expressing support for the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion. In 2000, the Supreme Court ruled that a Nebraska ban on partial-birth abortion was unconstitutional because it did not sufficiently define the procedure and did not contain a health exception. Both the House and Senate have "repeatedly" approved similar measures, but those bills were vetoed by former President Clinton because they did not include exceptions to protect the health of a woman (California Healthline, 3/17).
In the House version of the bill, sponsored by Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio), lawmakers included language stating that this type of procedure is "never medically essential," effectively eliminating the need for a health exception, the Washington Post reports. The bill does contain an exception if the woman's life is threatened, but also states that "partial-birth abortion is never medically indicated to preserve the health of the mother; [it] is in fact unrecognized as a valid abortion procedure by the mainstream medical community (and) poses additional health risks to the mother" (Eilperin, Washington Post, 6/5). Lawmakers defeated 133-287 an amendment that would have established an exception to avoid "serious adverse health consequences" for the woman. Abortion-rights opponents said that the amendment would have "opened a huge loophole" in the measure, according to the Times (New York Times, 6/5). Some lawmakers who opposed the measure said that the abortion procedure described in the bill is "sometimes the safest procedure because it reduces bleeding, infection and other risks to the woman," according to the Los Angeles Times (Hook, Los Angeles Times, 6/5). However, officials are "uncertain" how often abortion providers perform the procedure outlined in the legislation, according to the Post (Washington Post, 6/5). Thirty-one states have approved bans on partial-birth abortion, but only the measures in Georgia, Kansas, New Mexico and Utah have been ruled constitutional (Brogan, Gannett/USA Today, 6/5).
The bill now goes to conference committee where it will be reconciled with the Senate version, the Washington Times reports (Fagan, Washington Times, 6/5). The Senate language supporting Roe v. Wade is expected to be dropped during conference committee, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer (Kuhnhenn, Philadelphia Inquirer, 6/5). President Bush has said he will sign the bill, despite concerns raised by some over the measure's constitutionality, the Boston Globe reports. A White House statement said, "This bill is narrowly tailored and exempts those procedures necessary to save the life of the mother" (Milligan/Goldberg, Boston Globe, 6/5). Bush said that the ban is "both morally imperative and constitutionally permissible" (New York Times, 6/5). He added that this "important legislation" would "help build a culture of life in America," and he called on lawmakers to "send me the final bill as soon as possible so that I can sign it into law" (Los Angeles Times, 6/5). The American Civil Liberties Union Reproductive Freedom Project has said it plans to challenge the ban in court "the moment it becomes law," according to the Inquirer (Philadelphia Inquirer, 6/5). Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the National Abortion Federation have also said they would challenge the ban, which is also opposed by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Medical Association (New York Times, 6/5).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.