National Right to Life
Pro-Life Lawmakers and NRLC Launch
New Effort to Ban Partial-Birth Abortion
By Douglas Johnson
NRLC Federal Legislative Director
WASHINGTON (July 7, 2002) – Key federal lawmakers, with strong support from the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC), have launched a new effort to ban partial-birth abortions nationwide.
President Bill Clinton twice blocked enactment of such a national ban with his veto – but President George W. Bush supports a ban on partial-birth abortion.
On June 19, a new version of the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act (H.R. 4965) was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Congressman Steve Chabot (pronounced “SHA-bit”), Republican of Ohio.
Mr. Chabot, joined by lawmakers from both parties at a press conference, explained that his bill is targeted at the abortion method “in which a physician delivers an unborn child’s body until only the head remains inside the womb, punctures the back of the child’s skull with a sharp instrument, and sucks the child’s brains out before completing delivery of the dead infant.”
“Partial-birth abortion is the termination of the life of a living baby just seconds before it takes its first breath outside the womb,” Mr. Chabot said, adding, “A moral, medical, and ethical consensus exists that partial-birth abortion is an inhumane procedure that is never medically necessary and should be prohibited.”
Mr. Chabot is the chairman of the Constitution Subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee. The subcommittee is scheduled to hold a hearing on the bill on July 12, with votes by the subcommittee and full Judiciary Committee anticipated within days thereafter.
Supporters hope that the full House will pass the bill before Congress begins a five-week recess on July 26.
The bill will face much stiffer resistance in the Senate. Most Democratic senators oppose the bill, and the Democrats currently control the chamber with a one-vote majority (51-49). All except three Democratic senators are committed supporters of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion on demand. At least seven Republican senators also support Roe.
In a June 19 letter to House members, NRLC expressed its strong support for the new bill and urged lawmakers to cosponsor it. At NRL News deadline on July 7, H.R. 4965 had 100 House sponsors.
(The complete text of the June 19 NRLC letter appears on page ** of this edition, and on the NRLC website at www.nrlc.org/abortion/pba/letter061902.html. To see a list of cosponsors, and to send an e-mail on the bill to your own U.S. House member, visit the NRLC Legislative Action Center at www.nrlc.org.)
Clinton Vetoed Twice
NRLC helped originate the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, which was originally introduced in 1995 by Congressman Charles Canady (R-Fl.), who retired from Congress in 2000.
Congress twice approved the ban, but President Bill Clinton vetoed those bans in 1996 and 1998. On each occasion, the House voted by more than the required two-thirds margin to override the vetoes, but in the Senate pro-life forces fell short of the two-thirds threshold.
During the 106th Congress (1999-2000), the House approved a ban for the third time. In October, 1999, the Senate also approved the ban, but only after adding an amendment, sponsored by Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), to endorse Roe v. Wade.
The House and Senate had not yet resolved their differences on that bill when, on June 28, 2000, a five-justice majority of the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a Nebraska law that was similar to the proposed federal ban. In that case, Stenberg v. Carhart, the majority ruled that Roe v. Wade covered even the brutal practice of partial-birth abortion. Pro-life leaders in Congress subsequently shifted their focus to other issues for a time.
Changes in Bill
The new bill differs in two respects from the versions previously vetoed by President Clinton. Both changes were made in response to the Supreme Court’s Carhart ruling.
The first change is in the definition of “partial-birth abortion.” The five-justice majority in Carhart thought that Nebraska’s definition of “partial-birth abortion” was vague and could be construed to cover not only abortions in which the baby is mostly delivered alive before being killed, but also the more common “dilation and evacuation” (D&E) method. In a D&E abortion, a well-developed unborn child is dismembered piece by piece, and during this process arms or legs are sometimes pulled into the birth canal before being torn off.
In order to avoid any
possibility of such confusion, the new bill (H.R. 4965) defines a prohibited
partial-birth abortion as one in which “the person performing the abortion
deliberately and intentionally vaginally delivers a living fetus until, in the
case of a head-first presentation, the entire fetal head is outside the
body of the mother, or, in the case of breech presentation, any part of
the fetal trunk past the navel is outside the body of the mother,” and
then kills the baby. [italics added for emphasis]
In Carhart, the five-justice majority ruled that an abortionist must be allowed to use the partial-birth abortion method if he believes that it is the method which has the lowest risk of side effects for any particular woman seeking an abortion in the second trimester or third trimester. The majority reached this result by deferring to findings of fact by the trial court, which were based on acceptance of assertions by late-term abortionist Dr. LeRoy Carhart and others that the partial-birth abortion method was sometimes the method least likely to cause side effects.
H.R. 4965 addresses this issue by incorporating congressional “findings” that partial-birth abortion is never necessary to protect the health of a woman and, indeed, exposes a woman to substantial and additional health risks.
The findings also cite certain past rulings in which the Supreme Court has recognized and deferred to the broad fact-finding powers of Congress.
Reactions to New Bill
Pro-abortion groups immediately denounced the new bill.
Kate Michelman, president of the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League (NARAL), said, "The Supreme Court has spoken on this issue. The law is unconstitutional in that it does not make an exception to protect women's health."
Priscilla Smith of the Center for Reproductive Law and Policy called the bill a “desperate attempt to rehash issues settled by the Supreme Court two years ago.” Carlton W. Veazey, president of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC), said the bill “would impose a narrow religious view about abortion on everyone.” RCRC describes itself as “the national alliance of religious organizations from 16 denominations and faith traditions, including the Episcopal Church, Presbyterian Church (USA), United Methodist Church, United Church of Christ, Unitarian Universalist Association, and Reform and Conservative Judaism.”
But the bill was applauded by Dr. David Stevens, executive director of the Christian Medical Society, who noted, “Inflicting pain on developing infants such as that incurred during partial-birth abortion would never be countenanced by any medical review team for human experimentation.”
The June 19 NRLC letter to House members noted that prominent pro-abortion leaders in the House, in an effort to prevent enactment of a ban on partial-birth abortions have proposed counter-legislation that they claim would restrict “late-term” abortions, such as H.R. 2702, by Congressmen Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Jim Greenwood (R-Pa.).
NRLC urged lawmakers to oppose this “phony ban,” which “would allow even the killing of provably ‘viable’ babies in the seventh, eighth, and ninth months to enhance the ‘mental health’ of the mother.”
For additional extensive documentation on partial-birth abortion, see the section of the NRLC website devoted to the issue at www.nrlc.org/abortion/pba/index.html.
Among the documents that may be particularly useful are “Key Facts on Partial-Birth Abortion” (www.nrlc.org/abortion/pba/KeyfactsJune02.html), and NRLC’s detailed, footnoted congressional testimony of March 11, 1997 (www.nrlc.org/abortion/pba/test.html).
Please visit the NRLC Legislative Action Center at www.nrlc.org and send your federal representatives an e-mail urging them to support the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act (H.R. 4965). You can also reach your congressman and your two U.S. senators through the Capitol Switchboard at (202) 225-3121.