Senate passes ban on late-term abortion procedure
House to take up measure next
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Senate voted by a wide margin to ban a late-term abortion procedure, referred to by critics as partial-birth abortion.
The 64-33 vote on Thursday sent the legislation to the Republican-controlled House, which is expected to pass it this spring.
U.S. President George W. Bush said he will sign it once it clears Congress.
"Partial-birth abortion is an abhorrent procedure that offends human dignity, and I commend the Senate for passing legislation to ban it," Bush said in a statement.
"Today's action is an important step toward building a culture of life in America."
Supporters of abortion rights have vowed to challenge the measure in court and said a ban on the procedure represents one step in rolling back abortion rights.
Thursday's passage comes after eight years of Republican-led attempts to ban the procedure. President Clinton vetoed two bills banning it.
In 2000, the Supreme Court struck down a Nebraska state law similar to a measure that, at the time, was under consideration by Congress.
The court said the Nebraska law was vague and failed to take into account that banning the procedure could jeopardize the health of the pregnant woman.
Last year, then-Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota, effectively killed another attempt by not bringing it to a vote.
Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pennsylvania, said the new bill addresses the concerns raised by the Supreme Court, by describing the procedure in detail so that the law would not apply to other abortion procedures.
Though the bill contains language saying exceptions could be made to save the life of the mother, Santorum said that wording was simply "standard boiler-plate language" that "has no consequence."
Under the bill, the doctor who carries out the procedure could be fined and imprisoned for up to two years or both. A woman upon whom a partial-birth abortion is performed may not be prosecuted under the bill.
Though "partial-birth abortion" is not a recognized medical phrase, the bill defines it as killing of a fetus at least 20 weeks old and whose entire head is outside of the mother's body. The bill also establishes a standard for breech deliveries.
Critics say the ban would be the first step toward overturning altogether the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that made abortions legal.