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
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. …