Senators Again Vote to Bar Late Abortions: 63-34 Margin Still Short of Veto-Proof

By Boyer, Dave | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), October 22, 1999 | Go to article overview

Senators Again Vote to Bar Late Abortions: 63-34 Margin Still Short of Veto-Proof


Boyer, Dave, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


The Senate last night passed a ban on partial-birth abortion, but again failed to get enough votes to override President Clinton's certain veto.

In another vote, the chamber narrowly endorsed the 1973 Supreme Court ruling that made abortion a constitutional right.

The partial-birth bill's sponsor, Sen. Rick Santorum, Pennsylvania Republican, said the 63-34 vote to ban the procedure shows that pro-life advocates retain their clout in Congress and sends a message "to the Peter Singers of the world."

Mr. Singer, a bioethics professor at Princeton University, has drawn fierce criticism for teachings that suggest euthanasia is acceptable for some disabled infants.

Democrats, meanwhile, promised to make a campaign issue out of putting senators on record on the high court's Roe vs. Wade ruling. The non-binding resolution passed 51-47, prompting Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa to warn that the legal right to an abortion "is hanging by a thread."

"I think it should set off alarm bells all over this country," Mr. Harkin said. "The basic right to reproductive choice could be taken away."

But pro-life advocates said the resolution was a Democratic subterfuge that failed to weaken support for the partial-birth ban.

"This was obviously an attempt to gut `partial-birth' ," said Andrea Lafferty, executive director of the pro-life Traditional Values Coalition. "This doesn't send alarm bells. It is a ploy."

The previous two Congresses passed similar bans on partial-birth abortions, in which a fetus is partially delivered through the birth canal before its brain is suctioned and skull crushed.

Mr. Clinton vetoed both measures, saying the procedure is medically needed in some cases to ensure the mother's health.

The House voted both times to override the vetoes, but the Senate failed both times to get the necessary 67 votes, getting 58 in 1996 and 64 in September 1998. The House is expected to take up the legislation again early next year.

Proponents of the ban actually picked up a vote in the Senate this year, in theory, but three senators did not vote this time - John H. Chafee, Rhode Island Republican; Connie Mack, Florida Republican and Judd Gregg, New Hampshire Republican. Mr. Gregg and Mr. Mack voted in favor of the partial-birth ban in 1998 and also voted yesterday against supporting Roe.

Freshman Sen. Blanche Lincoln, Arkansas Democrat, voted yes; her predecessor in 1998, Sen. Dale Bumpers, had voted no.

Mr. Santorum's bill would make it a felony punishable by a fine and/or up to two years in prison unless the procedure is necessary to save the life of the mother. The mother could not be prosecuted.

Proponents said the ban could save up to 5,000 lives annually in the United States of those killed just before being born.

"This is where we draw the line," Mr. Santorum said. "That line desperately needs to be drawn for the Peter Singers of the world. Some judge will cite him in some case, saying this is OK. If everybody's outraged about Peter Singer, here's something you can do."

Sen. Jesse Helms, North Carolina Republican, noted that the world recently marked the birth of its 6 billionth person and the Senate vote should serve notice to "population-control spin doctors."

Democrats said the ban is unconstitutional and accused Republicans of playing politics with the issue at the expense of women's lives and health.

"This is the third time the president will veto this bill," Sen. Barbara Boxer, California Democrat. "Why go through this if not for politics?"

Mr. Harkin's resolution stated that Roe vs. Wade "was an appropriate decision and secures an important constitutional right" and "should not be overturned." Eight Republicans joined 43 Democrats in supporting Roe vs. Wade; opposed were 44 Republicans, two Democrats and the Senate's lone independent, Robert C. …

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