Partial-birth abortion ban clears Senate, likely to become law

Mar 14, 2003 02:44 PM EST

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Senate approved the Partial birth Abortion Ban Act in a 64 –33 vote, outlawing the range of late-term abortions with exceptions for the health of the mother, March 13. The U.S. House of Representatives is expected to easily pass the legislation.

If the House passes the bill, it will be placed in the hands of the President who said he is looking forward to endorsing the ban.

"Partial-birth abortion is an abhorrent procedure that offends human dignity, and I commend the Senate for passing legislation to ban it," the president said in a written statement. "Today's action is an important step toward building a culture of life in America."

Many religious leaders including Richard Land, the president of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, applauded the overwhelming vote.

"Defenders of the sanctity of all human life should draw encouragement and inspiration from the lopsided vote," said Land.

"And unlike previous bills, this one is awaited by a president who is eager to sign it into law instead of vetoing it," he continued. "This is yet one more encouraging sign that the pro-life movement is winning the long-term struggle for hearts and minds on the issue of life in the womb. This is but the first significant step in the struggle to reassert the sanctity-of-life ethic upon which this nation was founded. As the Declaration of Independence asserts, we believe 'that all men ... are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.'"

James Dobson, President of Focus on the Family ministries called the vote a "victory for our nation and for the most vulnerable members of the human family -- babies who are literally a heartbeat away from being born. Any society that condones infanticide cannot call itself civilized. Partial-birth abortion not only represents an assault on voiceless and powerless babies, but it dulls our senses as a nation."

The bill will prohibit doctors from committing an “overt act” designed to kill a partially delivered fetus; the partially delivered fetus is a case where the entire fetal head is outside of the body of the mother, or, in the event of a breech delivery, if "any part of the fetal trunk past the navel is outside the body of the mother." The doctor typically pierces the base of the fetal head with surgical scissors, then suctions out the fetal brain.

"It's not medically necessary. It's not even medically recognized," Sen. Rick Santorum said of the “barbaric” procedure.

However, critics of the ban argue that the legislation is unconstitutional and may harm the health of the mother.

"This bill doesn't protect the health of women. It puts our daughters in harm's way," countered Sen. Barbara Boxer.

The partial abortion ban was approved by the Congress twice, but was vetoed by President Clinton; The House achieved the two-thirds majorities necessary to override the vetoes in both 1996 and 1998, but the Senate fell short. A third attempt was faltered by a 2000 Supreme court ruling, which overturned a state law patterned after the federal ban.

The House and the President are expected to pass the ban by Thursday.

By Pauline J.