‘PARTIAL-BIRTH’ ABORTION: House Passes Ban
For the third time in five years, the House yesterday passed a ban on "partial-birth" abortion, and President Clinton promised to veto the measure because it lacks an exception to protect the woman's health, AP/USA Today reports. While the House approved the legislation with a veto-proof margin of 287-141, Senate supporters of a companion bill passed last October fell two votes short of the two-thirds majority required to override a presidential veto (Espo, AP/USA Today, 4/6). Two hundred and nine Republicans, 77 Democrats and one independent voted to ban the procedure known as intact dilation and extraction. Under the bill, exceptions would be permitted to protect the woman's life (Vita, Washington Post, 4/6). Opponents of the procedure rejected an alternative bill that would have allowed exceptions if the woman might suffer "serious long term physical health consequences" (Espo, AP/USA Today, 4/6). Republicans argued that such an exception would have allowed late-term abortions for mental health reasons. Abortion-rights supporters picked up nine votes, primarily from new members, since the last House vote on the procedure in 1997 (Alvarez, New York Times, 4/6).
The Washington Post reports that yesterday's debate took on an "angry tenor," as proponents of the ban brandished "graphic" photos of the procedure and resorted to caustic rhetoric. House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Texas) said, "Most Americans wouldn't want this done to a dog -- yet the White House and others turn their heads away as it is done to babies. The abortion industry has gone too far" (Vita, Washington Post, 4/6). He added, "Abortion is a stain we must begin to wash away. A ban on partial-birth is the first step." Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.), a leading abortion-rights opponent in Congress, echoed the sentiment, noting, "We treat the unborn as a thing, a desensitized, depersonalized thing to be discarded with the other junk. We are not debating policy options. ... This is a debate about human dignity." But opponents of the partial- birth ban scoffed at Republicans' indignation, pointing out that GOP leaders rejected a Democratic proposal that would have addressed Clinton's concerns about the lack of a health exception "because they wanted to use the issue for political purposes." Rep. James Greenwood (R-Pa.), an abortion-rights supporter, said, "This is all about politics, not about saving lives ... It's about winning seats in the Congress" (New York Times, 4/6). Some Democrats worried that the wording of the ban would "outlaw most mid-term and late-term abortions." Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) said, "Proponents of this bill are not just chipping away at the right to choose, they are taking a jackhammer to it" (Rauber, New York Post, 4/6). Republicans hope yesterday's vote will "mobilize their rank-and-file supporters in selected congressional races, as well as in the presidential campaign," according to the Washington Post. Vice President Al Gore has said he opposes the procedure but would ban any measure without an exception to protect the health and life of the woman. GOP presidential hopeful George W. Bush has pledged to sign the ban if elected (Washington Post, 4/6).