Senate To Vote On Late-Term Abortion Ban (5/15/97)
Behind The Abortion Debate (5/15/97)
Behind The Abortion Debate
A year later, the political landscape has changed some
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, May 14) -- If this week's Senate debate on late-term abortions sounds familiar, it should.
Congress and President Bill Clinton marched down this same road last spring and fall, when lawmakers passed a so-called "partial-birth abortion" measure, then the Senate couldn't muster enough votes to override the president's veto.
Since then, though, at least three things have changed.
First, some of the freshmen senators elected last November may vote for more abortion restrictions. Supporters believe they have 62 or 63 votes now, so they need four or five more to override an expected presidential veto. Last September, 57 senators voted to override Clinton's veto, 10 shy of the 67 needed.
Second, defenders of abortion rights were dealt a blow earlier this spring, when one of their own, Ron Fitzsimmons, admitted he had lied "through my teeth" when he said the procedure was rarely done and normally only to save a woman's life.
In a 1995 interview, Fitzsimmons had said only a few hundred of the procedures were done each year. Fitzsimmons, director of a coalition of abortion providers, told The New York Times he lied because he feared the truth would hurt abortion rights supporters' cause.
It's still not clear how many of the procedures doctors actually do in the U.S. each year, but Fitzsimmons' admission encouraged Republican leaders to bring the question back.
And third, Sen. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) has offered an alternative measure that the White House says is acceptable to Clinton. It would ban all forms of late-term abortions on fetuses viable outside the womb, while providing exceptions to save the mother's life or avoid "grievous injury" to her health. Abortion opponents say Daschle's proposal is full of loopholes, though, and it does not appear likely to pass.
Since the landmark Roe v. Wade Supreme Court case in 1973, abortion has been legal in the United States. For the first trimester of pregnancy, government cannot interfere. But after the first trimester, states may limit a woman's right to the procedure, and 41 states have laws in place regulating access to late-term abortions.
In all, there are about 1.6 million abortions a year in the United States, and about 90 percent occur in the first trimester, according to Planned Parenthood.
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