Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., speaking before the House voted 274-151 Wednesday to ban what opponents call partial-birth abortion, said there would be some pressure to address the issue this year. But he said that with a full legislative slate and time running out, ``We're going to have to make some decisions about what merits the highest priority.''
``We now have a president who will sign this bill,'' said House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas. ``It must not become another tombstone in the Senate's legislative graveyard.''
Efforts to ban the usually late-term abortion procedure have taken place almost every year since Republicans gained control of the House in 1995. But President Clinton vetoed the legislation in 1996 and 1997, citing the lack of an exemption when the health of the mother or her ability to reproduce in the future is put at risk, and the Senate lacked the votes to override the veto.
Proponents of the ban suffered another setback in 2000 when the Supreme Court, on a 5-4 vote, struck down a Nebraska law banning the procedure, saying the law did not adequately define the procedure and the lack of a health exemption imposed an unconstitutional ``undue burden'' on women.
Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Ohio, the chief sponsor of the House bill, said he had rewritten past versions to comply with the court decision. He said it included a more precise definition of the procedure and added congressional findings to prove that the procedure is never necessary to protect the health of the mother. The bill still has an exception when the life of the mother is in danger.
The Center for Reproductive Law and Policy, which represented the Nebraska doctor in the Supreme Court case, said the House bill's contention that health protections are never necessary ``was precisely the argument rejected by the Supreme Court'' and the bill was still unconstitutional.
The procedure involves the partial delivery of an intact living fetus until some portion of the fetus is outside the body of the mother, at which point the fetus is killed, often by puncturing the head. Doctors who violate the ban would be subject to fines or a maximum of two years imprisonment.
The White House said in a statement that it strongly supported the Chabot bill and believes its enactment ``is morally imperative and constitutionally permissible to prohibit this very abhorrent form of abortion.''
House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., said a ``moral, medical and ethical consensus exists that partial-birth abortion is an unsafe and inhumane procedure that is never medically necessary.''
But Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., said the bill was ``nothing more than a cruel ploy to prevent women from obtaining the safest and best medical care from their doctors.'' Other opponents said the ban on the procedure would not prevent one abortion and was primarily an election-year political gesture.
Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said it was a ``contrived, cynical charade,'' and complained that the GOP leadership would not permit him and Rep. Jim Greenwood, R-Pa., to offer an alternative that would ban all late-term abortions, regardless of the procedure used, with health and life exceptions.
Sixty-five Democrats voted for the ban while nine Republicans opposed it.
The bill is H.R. 4965.