On Wednesday, the nation's highest court threw out Nebraska's ban, saying it violates women's constitutional rights by imposing an ``undue burden'' on their decisions to end their pregnancies.
GOP lawmakers, who have been waiting on this decision, now will take the ruling and rework their already-approved ``partial-birth'' ban in hopes of avoiding any constitutional questions.
``This opinion will be studied intensely,'' House Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry Hyde, R-Ill., said.
One of the things that the court said made the Nebraska law unconstitutional--the lack of an exemption to protect the health of the mother--also is not in the GOP bills as they now stand in the House and Senate.
But President Clinton likely will get a rewritten bill before this year's presidential election. He vetoed legislation on the matter in 1996 and 1997, stating that it did not provide adequate exceptions to protect the health of the mother.
The House both times voted to override the veto but the Senate failed to come up with the necessary two-thirds majority for an override.
In a statement Wednesday, Clinton pledged to veto any similar legislation that widely restricts late-term abortions. ``A woman's right to choose must include the right to choose a medical procedure that will not endanger her life or health,'' Clinton said.
Vice President Al Gore, the Democratic presidential hopeful, opposes a ban on partial-birth abortion, while his likely opponent, the Republican governor of Texas, George W. Bush, supports it.
Partial-birth abortion is not a medical term. Doctors call the method dilation and extraction, or D&X, because it involves partially extracting a fetus, legs first, through the birth canal, cutting the skull and draining its contents.
A more common procedure is dilation and evacuation, or D&E, in which an arm or leg of a live fetus may be pulled into the birth canal during the abortion operation.
The Supreme Court, in a 5-4 vote Wednesday, said the Nebraska law aimed at only at the D&X method could criminalize the D&E method as well. It also does not provide an exception for a partial-birth abortion to protect the health of the mother.
The Republican bills were changed to specify D&X abortions when the court cases began, but still do not have a provision to protect the mother's health.
However, the ban could be on good constitutional ground once changed.
``A ban on partial-birth abortion that only proscribed the D&X method of abortion and that included an exception to preserve the life and health of the mother would be constitutional, in my view,'' said Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who supplied the critical fifth vote for striking down Nebraska's law.
The Senate passed a partial-birth abortion ban last year and the House passed a similar version two months ago. But GOP lawmakers decided to wait on the court before adopting a final bill.
``There was a deliberate decision to wait until the court ruled and use the decision to craft the bill in committee,'' said a House staffer who asked not to be identified.
The only major difference between the House and Senate bills is a Senate-passed provision--engineered by Democrats--declaring that the high court's Roe vs. Wade ruling in 1973 established ``an important constitutional right'' and should not be overturned.
The partial-birth abortion issue has caused political anguish for many Democrats who favor abortion rights but find the GOP bills impossible to oppose.
House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., already has chosen members of the conference committee that will consider changes to the bill. They are Hyde, as well as Reps. Charles Canady, R-Fla.; J.C. Watts, R-Okla.; John Conyers, D-Mich.; and Bob Goodlatte, R-Va.
Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott has yet to appoint to the Senate conferees.
The bills are H.R. 3660 and S. 1692.