March 20, 1997

House favors ``partial birth'' abortion ban

By Deborah Zabarenko

WASHINGTON (Reuter) - A controversial ban on so-called ''partial birth'' abortion was approved by the House of Representatives Thursday by a wide enough margin to withstand an expected presidential veto.

Members of the House voted 295-136 for the ban, which allows exceptions in cases where the pregnant woman's life is at risk. President Clinton, who has insisted on another exception for when a woman's health is in jeopardy, has vowed to veto the bill. A vote of 290 or more is needed to override the veto, as well as a two-thirds majority in the Senate.

The vote came after hours of heated debate, in which one congresswoman told of her personal experience with the abortion procedure -- also known as intact dilation and extraction -- and another lawmaker likened this abortion method to the Khmer Rouge ``killing fields.''

In summing up the case for the ban, prominent anti-abortion crusader Rep. Henry Hyde, an Illinois Republican, quoted William Shakespeare, John Donne and Saint Paul, and finally called for an end to moral decay.

``The moral culture of our country is eroding when we tolerate a cruelty so great that its proponents don't even wish us to learn the truth about this 'procedure,''' Hyde told the House chamber.

The procedure involves the partial extraction of the fetus feet-first, the subsequent suctioning out of the fetal brain and removal of the fetus.

Opponents of the ban have said it hampers women's constitutional right to choose abortion; proponents of the ban call the procedure barbaric.

Rep. Jay Dickey, an Arkansas Republican, talked of fetal development and said those who use the so-called ``partial birth'' procedure are comparable to the Khmer Rouge. ``We're doing the same thing, it's just a matter of inches,'' Dickey said. ``Our nation cannot withstand this assault.''

Rep. Rosa deLauro, a Connecticut Democrat, said she had undergone the procedure when prenatal tests indicated the fetus she was carrying had severe genetic problems.

``More than four years later, I still mourn the loss of this child, a girl,'' deLauro told the House. She opposed the ban, calling this abortion procedure ``the least horrific of truly horrendous alternatives.''

The bill would impose fines or potential imprisonment of up to two years on doctors who perform the procedure, and allows the father or maternal grandparents, if the mother is under 18, to file a civil lawsuit against the doctor for monetary damages equaling three times the cost of the abortion procedure.

Clinton vetoed an identical bill last year, and the White House said in a statement issued Wednesday that the new bill contained ``the same serious flaws'' as the one approved by Congress last year and said Clinton would veto it for the same reasons.

``By refusing to permit women, in reliance on their doctors' best medical judgment, to use this procedure when their lives are threatened or when their health is put in serious jeopardy, the Congress has fashioned a bill that is consistent neither with the Constitution nor with sound public policy,'' Clinton said in his 1996 veto message.

Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi said the bill could come to a vote in the Senate in two or three weeks, following the congressional Easter recess.

``Right now we probably don't have the votes to override a veto,'' Lott told reporters before the House vote. ``... We need a little more steam to build up. We think the House voting this week perhaps by a veto-proof margin would provide some impetus the next two weeks ... and that will build enough support that we can get a wide margin vote on the Senate on that.''