President Clinton’s veto of a bill banning partial-birth abortions was overturned by the House of Representatives Sept. 19, but the override vote in the Senate Sept. 26 fell short of the two-thirds majority needed to outlaw the late- term abortion procedure.
The Senate voted 57-41 to override Clinton’s veto. Several senators who voted against the ban initially switched to a pro-life position on the override attempt, but that vote still fell nine votes short. Two Democrats, Patrick Leahy (Vermont) and Sam Nunn (Georgia) voted to override Clinton’s veto after having voted against the bill originally. Sen Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), who was one of eight Republicans to vote against the bill, also switched his vote. The House voted to override by a 185-137 margin.
California’s two Democrat senators, Feinstein and Boxer, voted pro-abortion.
In a partial-birth abortion, the child is partially delivered, but while the head is still inside the birth canal the abortionist stabs the skull with a scissors, then removes the brain with a suction device. The procedure is generally performed on children who are 20- 26 weeks along or later — many of whom are viable outside the womb. Even some pro-choice legislators came out against the grisly procedure.
In vetoing the partial-birth abortion ban, Clinton said the bill failed to provide an exception to protect the health of the mother. The bill included an exception for cases where the life of the mother is threatened, but the broader “health” exemption sought by Clinton was rejected by supporters of the ban because such exemptions have been broadly interpreted to permit abortion for virtually any reason.
Clinton came under fire from Republican Presidential nominee Bob Dole for vetoing the partial-birth abortion ban. “As more and more Americans have learned the details of this procedure, the President has been left almost alone, defending the indefensible,” said Dole. Dole spokeswoman Christina Martin said Dole “stands with America’s families in fighting against a practice so heartless that no person of good conscience can support it … Every woman and man in America should demand that Bill Clinton explain his defense of this barbaric procedure.”
Responding to the Senate’s failure to override Clinton’s veto, Dole running mate Jack Kemp said the debate is far from over. “I cannot understand how President Clinton can continue to support this practice, but that does not end the issue,” Kemp said. “Our hope is that the American people, as they get to know what type of practice is employed in taking a child, a baby, a new life just seconds before they’re out of the womb.”
Ralph Reed of the Christian Coalition predicted political fall-out, saying, “It gives the lie to President Clinton’s attempts to portray himself as a moderate on the abortion issue, and it will mobilize millions of evangelical and Catholic voters who will go to the polls in record numbers in November.”
Dr. James Dobson, president of Focus on the Family, said that Senators who voted to sustain Clinton’s veto “have the blood of innocent children on their hands.” He added, “The successful effort to kill the partial-birth abortion ban showed that there is no abortion the President and his allies in the Senate would try to stop.
The bill to ban partial-birth abortions was the first attempt by Congress to ban a specific abortion procedure since the U.S. Supreme Court legalized abortion-on-demand in 1973.
Pro-choice supporters of partial-birth abortion say the technique is used rarely, and generally only in cases involving physical risk to the mother or severe deformation of the fetus. Abortion rights groups claim that only about 500 partial-birth abortions are performed each year in the U.S.
However, reports in two daily newspapers indicated that the procedure is much more common than previously believed. A reporter for the Record in Bergen County, New Jersey, found that “in New Jersey alone at least 1,500 partial-birth abortions are performed each year — three times the supposed national rate. Moreover, doctors say only a ‘minuscule amount’ are for medical reasons.”
The Washington Post reported Sept. 17 that “the majority of these [partial-birth] abortions are performed on normal fetuses, not on fetuses suffering genetic or other developmental abnormalities. Furthermore, in most cases where the procedure is used, the physical health of the woman whose pregnancy is being terminated is not in jeopardy.”
A group of 230 physicians called the Physicians’ Ad Hoc Coalition for Truth reported that “partial-birth abortion is never medically indicated to protect a mother’s health or her future fertility. On the contrary, this procedure … can pose a significant threat to both her immediate health and future futility.”
— E.P. News