Senate To Vote On Late-Term Abortion Ban (5/15/97)
Behind The Abortion Debate (5/15/97)
Two Late-Term Abortion Ban Measures Fail In Senate
A third bill by 'partial birth' abortion foes will be decided on Tuesday
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, May 15) -- After passionate debate, the Senate defeated two measures Thursday to restrict a controversial type of late-term abortion, despite a last-minute lobbying effort by the Clinton Administration.
A third measure banning the procedure, which doctors call "intact dilation and extraction" and which foes call "partial-birth" abortion, will likely be voted on next Tuesday. It is the most restrictive of the three measures.
"Open your heart to these babies," declared Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, flanked by images of aborted fetuses. "Don't let this kind of barbarism continue. Stop the murder. Stop the infanticide."
Though the president vetoed an identical ban on the controversial procedure last summer, supporters, hoping the politics of the issue have changed, will vote next week on the same language, which passed the House March 20.
But first up were two alternatives sponsored by senators who generally favor abortion rights. Both measures were supported by President Bill Clinton who, along with Vice President Al Gore, made phone calls to wavering senators during the day.
It wasn't enough. The first measure, sponsored by Democratic Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein of California and Carol Moseley-Braun of Illinois, was beaten back 28-72. It would have banned all forms of late-term abortions with broad exceptions to protect the life and health -- physical or mental -- of the mother.
Later in the day, a second alternative authored by Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) failed 36-64. It would have banned late-term abortions with a more limited exception than in the Boxer-Feinstein-Braun proposal. Daschle's proposal would permit the procedure to save the mother's life or avert "grievous injury" to her health.
Daschle's language defined "grievous injury" as either a severely debilitating disease, a condition caused by the pregnancy, or the inability to provide the necessary treatment of a life-threatening condition. Critics, noting the amendment was written so as not to preempt 41 state laws, contended the health exemption was too broad to prevent many abortions.
"If this bill were to become law there would not be one less abortion performed in this country, and there would not be one abortion banned in this country," Santorum said.
Can The Senate Override?
The third option before the Senate would ban so-called "partial- birth" abortions, with an exception to save the mother's life. The procedure entails draining the contents of the fetus' skull after partially extracting it through the birth canal.
Santorum, the legislation's chief sponsor, has predicted the Senate will approve his bill, though he concedes he is several votes short of the 67 votes needed to override a veto. The House passed the legislation March 20 with a veto-proof majority.
Thursday's debate yielded few surprises, with abortion rights supporters accusing opponents of seeking to chip away at a fundamental right, while opponents equated late-term abortion with murder and showcased diagrams of a procedure many find grisly.
"What [Santorum's bill] is really about is outlawing one procedure, and then they'll go after the next procedure and then they'll go after the next and the next," Boxer declared.
"I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you that I have set before you life and death ... therefore, choose life that both you and your descendants may live," intoned Oklahoma Republican James Inhofe.
Moseley-Braun criticized abortion foes' diagrams as "using a cartoon ... if you are going to talk about these issues, it really should be based on reality and not just posturing and not just politics," she said
Santorum said he objected to Daschle's alternative, in part, because it does not go beyond existing abortion law.
"This is pretty much a codification of Roe v. Wade [the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion]," Santorum said. "We believe that this doesn't change current law. It won't stop one abortion; it won't stop one partial abortion."
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