Senate passes late-term abortion ban
Court challenge certain
Video image from Senate Chamber after Tuesday's vote to ban the practice that critics call partial birth abortion.
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Senate voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to ban a late-term abortion procedure critics call "partial-birth abortion," sending the bill to President Bush, who vowed to sign the measure into law.
"I applaud the Senate for joining the House in passing the ban on 'partial-birth abortion,'" Bush said in a written statement. "This is very important legislation that will end an abhorrent practice and continue to build a culture of life in America. I look forward to signing it into law."
Once signed, the bill will be the first federal law banning a form of abortion since the Supreme Court's landmark 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision upheld abortion rights.
The Senate vote, 64-34, came just three weeks after House passed the bill by a 281-142 margin.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tennessee, who was a surgeon before he came to Washington, hailed the legislation, calling the procedure "barbaric" and "offensive to our moral sensibilities."
"The legislation we just passed will save lives -- not just several, but hundreds and potentially thousands of lives," Frist told reporters.
According to the Alan Guttmacher Institute, a non-profit group that conducts sexual and reproductive health research, 2,200 late-term abortions were performed in 2000. That was less than 0.2 percent of the 1.3 million abortions performed that year.
During the procedure, known to doctors as intact dilation and extraction, the fetus is partially removed and its skull collapsed. The bill the Senate passed Tuesday would impose penalties of up to two years in prison for doctors who perform the procedure, and they could face civil lawsuits as well.
Rick Santorum, R-Pennsylvania, a lead sponsor of the bill, called the late-term abortion procedure an "affront to the dignity of human beings."
"This kind of treatment to an innocent child, who would otherwise be born alive, who is healthy with a healthy mother ... there is no excuse for it," he said.
Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-California, an opponent of the legislation, said the vote represented a "very sad day for the women of America."
But Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-California, called it a "very sad day for the women of America, a very sad day for the families of America."
"This Senate is about to pass a piece of legislation that for the first time in history bans a medical procedure without making any exception for the health of a woman," she said in remarks before the vote.
"I want a civilized society. That means you care about the women of this country. That means you care about their pregnancies. That means you want to help them through the most difficult times. That means you don't play doctor here."
Abortion opponents have said the procedure is cruel, while abortion rights advocates argue any move to restrict abortion would erode a woman's constitutional right to terminate her pregnancy accorded by Roe vs. Wade.
Planned Parenthood, the American Civil Liberties Union and other abortion rights groups have said they plan to file lawsuits challenging the law.
Congress twice passed measures banning the procedure during the 1990s, but President Clinton vetoed them.
Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Ohio, a lead sponsor of the bill in the House, called late-term abortion a "rogue procedure" that should be stopped.
"This is really a great day for those unborn babies, and it's a great day for their mothers," he told reporters. "God bless this country for stamping out this horrible practice."