Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Late-Term Abortion Veto Merits Analysis

Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Late-Term Abortion Veto Merits Analysis

Article excerpt

Those opposed to abortion have the right and duty to urge public officials to work diligently to make abortion "rare." President Clinton in his campaign promised that he would work to make abortions "legal, safe and rare." But opponents of abortion cannot reasonably or responsibly fault Clinton for his April 10 veto of a bill that would have criminalized certain late abortions.

This issue will be used and abused by the Christian Coalition and the Republican Party during the presidential campaign. Consequently, comprehensive information and careful analysis are in order.

The number of U.S. abortions has edged downward in recent months. In 1993, the last year for which we have adequate statistics, there were about 1.3 million abortions. down 2.1 percent from the 1992 figure. Of these, 1.3 percent -- or about 17,000 -- were performed on women whose pregnancies had gone more than 20 weeks

One of the late-term abortion techniques is "dilatation and extraction." It was the technique that alone would have been forbidden in the bill Clinton vetoed. There are no reliable statistics as to how often this technique is used or how often the aborted fetus is normal. Other methods for late-term abortions include inducing labor to deliver a fetus whose life has been extinguished by chemical means and a surgical procedure removing the fetus from the abdomen

Although these techniques would not have been outlawed by the bill vetoed by Clinton, they pose higher risks for the mother than dilatation and extraction. A survey of deaths from legal abortions between 1972 and 1981 found mortality in second-trimester abortions done by dilatation and extraction to be 4.9 cases out of 100,000. It was 9.6 per 100,000 for the induced-labor method and 60 per 100,000 for the abdominal surgery method.

The measure vetoed by the president therefore was not a bill that would have outlawed all or even most of the abortions done after 20 weeks of pregnancy. It was a proposal that was aimed at one technique, which was portrayed as particularly inhuman and brutal.

Clinton strenuously urged Congress to broaden the bill to include the health of the mother rather than only a threat of death. As governor of Arkansas he signed a bill that outlawed late-term abortion unless there was a serious threat to the health of the mother or a likelihood of death. But the Republican majority in the House and Senate sent the president a bill that he announced early on he would veto. The Republicans will now use the veto to allege that the president is an "extremist" and that he has reneged on his promise to try to make abortion "rare."

Whether Clinton has done all he could to make abortion "rare" is a fair question. …

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