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House Committee Approves “Partial-Birth Abortion” Ban

On July 17, the House Judiciary Committee approved, 20-8, a bill (H.R. 4965) that would prohibit “partial-birth abortions.” The vote came after protracted debate on six amendments, most of which were aimed at limiting the bill’s scope.

Sponsored by Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH), the bill is designed to prohibit a specific abortion procedure performed late in pregnancy. The bill 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 medically indicated to preserve the health of the mother.”

Opponents say the bill would prohibit a number of abortion procedures because the definition of the procedure is broadly worded. They also contend that the measure is unconstitutional because it does not contain an exception to protect the health of the pregnant woman.

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 because of the broadly worded definition.

Rep. Chabot said that H.R. 4965 differed from previous bills in two areas. “First, it contains a more precise definition,” he said. Noting that the bill contains congressional findings to the effect that the procedure “is never necessary to preserve the health of the woman,” Rep. Chabot said, “The lower court’s factual findings are inconsistent with medical findings,” and that Congress is entitled to its own factual findings.

Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) responded, “The audacity of any man to say that a woman’s health is never to be considered in these situations is simply outrageous….I am offended that the author of this bill has the audacity to sit in this committee and ignore a woman’s health.”

Rep. Henry Hyde (R-IL) countered, “That little baby is not a diseased appendix. It is not a pair of infected tonsils. It is a little tiny member of the human race,” adding, “I’m for babies. I’m for women. I’m for life.”

Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) said, “This is about creating a 30-second ad opportunity for the November elections….The only comfort I take is that the Supreme Court, if this ever becomes law, will strike it down.”

Democrats offered several amendments, all of which were defeated. Reps. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) offered an amendment that would have added a health exception to the bill. The amendment was defeated, 10-18.

“It is worth noting that this amendment would make the bill constitutional,” stated Rep. Lofgren.

Rep. Chabot countered that the health exception “gives the abortionist unfettered discretion to decide when to perform an abortion.”

Other amendments that were considered and defeated, include:

  • An amendment by Rep. John Hostettler (R-IN) that would have prohibited the U.S. Supreme Court from reviewing the bill if it became law. The amendment was defeated by voice vote.
  • An amendment by Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) that would have added an exception to protect a woman’s physical health. The amendment was defeated by voice vote.
  • An amendment by Rep. Baldwin that would have struck the factual findings from the bill. The amendment was defeated by voice vote.
  • A substitute amendment by Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) that would have prohibited late-term abortions of post-viability fetuses unless certified by a physician that the procedure was necessary to preserve the life of the women or to avoid serious, adverse health consequences. The amendment was defeated by voice vote.
  • An amendment by Rep. Jackson Lee that would have removed the civil suit penalties from the bill. The amendment was defeated by voice vote.
  • An amendment by Rep. Jackson Lee that would have removed the prison term from the bill. The amendment was defeated, 8-19.

Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN) offered and withdrew an amendment that would have increased the criminal penalties from two years in jail to ten years.

The bill is expected to be considered by the House during the week of July 22.

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