March 20, 1997
House OKs Late-Term Abortion Ban
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The House approved a bill today banning a late-term abortion procedure, and supporters amassed the necessary two-thirds vote to override another veto by President Clinton.
The House voted 295-136 after two hours of emotionally wrenching debate. Sponsors of the bill used an easel and charts to describe, step-by-step, the procedure that has been at the center of this debate for two years.
Proponents of the bill likened the procedure to infanticide and said it should be outlawed. ``This procedure cannot be defended,'' said the sponsor, Rep. Charles Canady, R-Fla., as he pointed to charts on a nearby easel.
Opponents of the bill said outlawing the procedure would jeopardize women's health and their constitutional right to an abortion.
``The Republicans will not stop at one procedure,'' said Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y. ``They want to ban all abortions at any time, by any method.''
The procedure, more complicated than first-trimester abortions and medically known as ``dilation and evacuation,'' involves partially extracting a fetus, legs first, through the birth canal, cutting an incision in the barely visible skull base and then draining the contents of the skull.
Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., who opposes the procedure, acknowledged Thursday that he didn't yet have enough votes for an override and was looking to the House vote for some momentum. ``We need a little more steam to build up,'' he said.
Meanwhile, several Republicans joined Democrats in attacking the process by which the GOP leadership brought the bill to the House floor.
``It's obvious that the Rules Committee chose to invite another veto rather than meeting the president's criteria for signing this bill,'' said Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y.
The House Rules Committee, which put final touches on the bill Wednesday night, replaced the version approved by the Judiciary Committee with a measure identical to the one Clinton rejected last April.
The Rules Committee eliminated Judiciary Committee amendments that would have barred men who either abuse or abandon women pregnant with their children from suing for damages if the women had the disputed late-term abortion. The Rules Committee also barred the House from considering alternatives to the bill.
Rep. Gerald Solomon, R-N.Y., said Republicans hope Clinton, who supports abortion rights, would agree to a ban now that a key abortion-rights advocate has said he lied during the debate two years ago.
Ron Fitzsimmons, who runs the National Coalition of Abortion Providers in Alexandria, Va., now says the procedure, described by abortion opponents as a ``partial-birth'' procedure, is performed mostly during the fifth and sixth months of pregnancy and often is elective. He previously said it was rarely used and then only to save a woman's life or abort malformed fetuses.
``We need to pass this bill again and give it to the president, give him another chance to do the right thing, because the only reason he vetoed it was because of those lies by Ron Fitzsimmons,'' asserted Solomon, the Rules Committee chairman.
The bill would outlaw the procedure and threaten anyone who performs it with fines and up to two years in prison.
Critics say the measure is flawed because it targets a specific procedure and makes no exception to protect a woman's health. They also say Congress shouldn't legislate medical practices.
However, the bill includes an exception for saving a woman's life.
The House voted to override Clinton's veto last year, but the Senate fell eight votes short of the two-thirds majority needed for the override.
Clinton has insisted that any ban include a health exception, but the bill's supporters object, saying no health reason justifies the procedure.
They also contend that any health exception would be an ``empty shell,'' arguing that when the Supreme Court legalized abortion it defined health in such broad terms that almost any reason would qualify.