House Oks a Ban on Abortion Method Meanwhile, Senate Passes Line-Item Veto Legislation

Article excerpt

Courting a veto by President Bill Clinton, the Republican-controlled House passed legislation Wednesday to impose a ban on certain late-term abortions.

The measure would ban the rarely used technique - termed "partial birth abortion" by its opponents - except in cases where it is essential to save the mother's life. The vote in the House was 286-129, more than enough to override a threatened veto. Senate approval of the measure last year was by a 54-44 vote that would sustain a veto.

In another far-reaching vote, the Senate passed line-item veto legislation that would allow presidents to strip individual items from spending bills. Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, who helped craft a House-Senate compromise version of the bill, called it "the most signific ant delegation of authority by the Congress to the president since the Constitution was ratified in 1789."

The House passed the abortion ban after an emotionally charged debate, and support for the measure crossed party lines. Under the legislation, a p hysician who violates the provisions would be subject to a fine and prison term of up to two years.

The procedure is referred to by some doctors as "intact dilation and evacuation." It involves partly extracting a fetus, legs first, through the birth canal, then collapsing its skull and suctioning out the skull contents.

By passing the measure, Republicans intend to confront Clinton with an election-year dilemma. Given the gruesome nature of the procedure involved, Republicans believe there is widespread public support for the bill. On the other hand, abortion rights groups whose support is important to the Democratic president oppose the measure as an infringement on a woman's right to choose and are eager for the veto.

"We urge President Clinton to veto this legislation and preserve the ability of women and their physicians to make sound medical judgments free of political interference," said Jane Johnson, interim president of Planned Parenthood.

Abortion rights supporters say late-term abortions, in the second or third trimester of pregnancy, are typically done only in cases of profound fetal difficulty.

In a letter to key lawmakers last month, Clinton said he wanted the bill changed to allow exemptions designed "to preserve the life of the w oman or avert serious health consequences to the woman." Without the changes, he wrote, the bill "does not meet the constitutional requirements" laid down in the Supreme Court's abortion ruling.

The vote also demonstrated anew the strength of anti-abortion forces in the Republican-controlled Congress. The measure marks the first time since abortion was legalized more than two decades ago that Congress sought to ban a particular method.

Rep. Anthony Beilenson, D-Calif., argued that the measure is merely the first step in an attempt by anti-abortion forces to overturn the Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court ruling that granted women abortion rights. He also called it an assault "on the right of physicians to practice medicine without fear of government intrusion." He and several other lawmakers called for an exemption from the ban to take into account the health of the mother, as well as her life. …