Senate Passes Partial-Birth Abortion Ban; House to Consider Companion Bill This Spring

Posted March 13, 2003 at 1:33pm

After Republicans beat back several amendments, the Senate easily approved a bill that would ban a controversial abortion procedure Thursday morning.

The bill, which passed 64-33, would prohibit what opponents call “partial-birth” abortion, known technically as dilation and extraction.

Before the final vote, Republicans defeated several amendments, including one that would have made an exception for cases in which two doctors verified that the pregnancy put the woman at risk of “grievous physical injury.”

“We were able to defeat some amendments that were very much aimed at eliminating this ban, wiping the underlying bill out and replacing it with some language that would have, frankly, done little to nothing,” Republican Conference Chairman Rick Santorum (Pa.), the bill’s sponsor, said Wednesday evening before the Senate adjourned, leaving the final vote for the morning.

Bill supporters, backed by anti-abortion groups such as the National Right to Life Committee, have tried to ban the procedure for seven years only to see similar legislation vetoed twice by President Bill Clinton.

The Senate did include a nonbinding resolution — which is likely to be dropped in conference with the House — that shows support for the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that made abortion legal.

Action now moves to the House, where the measure has more support.

The Judiciary Committee has yet to say when it will mark up the companion bill, but the legislation is expected to pass the full House this spring.

Neither bill provides an exception for the mother’s health, a component the Supreme Court said Nebraska’s law was missing in striking down that state’s ban in 2000.

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Rep. James Greenwood (R-Pa.) have been trying just as long to get their alternative, which would ban late-term abortions, considered.

A spokesman for House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) said it was too early to say whether Hoyer and Greenwood would be allowed to bring up their bill as a substitute amendment during House debate.

“Hoyer-Greenwood is a common ground, common sense alternative … that would constitutionally ban late-term abortions with exceptions for the life and health (serious and adverse consequences) of the mother,” Hoyer said in a statement. “This bill gets to the heart of the matter by dealing with when abortions are performed not how abortions are performed.”