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House Approves Partial Birth Abortion Conference Report

On October 2, the House approved, 281-142, the conference report on the Partial Birth Abortion Ban (S. 3).

Sponsored by Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA), the measure would prohibit a specific abortion procedure performed during the second and third trimesters. S. 3 would make an exception if the life of the pregnant woman is endangered by carrying the pregnancy to term. Physicians who violate the ban would be subject to two years’ imprisonment and/or fines. The bill also contains a number of congressional findings that state “partial-birth abortion is never necessary to preserve the health of a woman, poses serious risks to a woman’s health, and lies outside the standard of medical care.”

Congress considered similar bans during the 104th, 105th, and 106th Congresses. Twice the bans were vetoed by President Clinton. In 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a Nebraska law that would have banned “partial-birth abortions” because the law did not include a health exception and because the bill placed an undue burden on a woman’s right to choose due to a broadly worded definition. Last year, the House approved a ban; however, the Senate did not consider the measure (see The Source, 7/26/02).

During consideration of the bill in March (see The Source, 3/14/03), the Senate approved, 52-46, an amendment offered by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) that expressed the sense of the Senate that the decision of the Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade was appropriate and secures an important constitutional right. The amendment also said that the ruling should not be overturned. On June 4, the House approved its version of the Partial Birth Abortion Ban (H.R. 760), sponsored by Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH) without the language supporting the Roe v. Wade decision (see The Source, 6/6/03). The conference report on S. 3 also does not include the Roe v. Wade language.

Supporting the conference report, Rep. Jo Ann Davis (R-VA) argued, “We already know in statements, such as those of former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, that a ‘partial-birth abortion is never medically necessary to protect a mother’s health.’ Why then, Mr. Speaker, is there any question at all that this procedure needs to be banned?”

Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) disagreed. “This legislation injects government into the private medical decisions made by a woman, and her doctor…Simply put, this bill prevents doctors from doing their jobs and will prevent physicians from providing the best and safest care for their patients.”

The Senate is expected to consider the conference report later this month. President Bush has said that he will sign the bill into law.

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