House sets stage for showdown with president over abortion Clinton vows to veto ban on 'partial-birth' method

October 09, 1997|By KNIGHT-RIDDER NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON -- Setting the stage for an abortion showdown with President Clinton, the House overwhelmingly approved a bill yesterday banning "partial-birth" abortions.

The legislation, which has won Senate approval, was sent to Clinton, who has said he will not approve an anti-abortion bill that fails to adequately protect women's health.

Under the bill passed by Congress, the procedure would be legal only if a woman's life was in danger from carrying the pregnancy to full term. The 296-132 vote ensures the two-thirds margin needed to override a veto.

Maryland Republicans Roscoe G. Bartlett, Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and Wayne T. Gilchrest voted in favor of the ban. Voting against the ban were Republican Constance A. Morella and Democrats Benjamin L. Cardin, Elijah E. Cummings, Steny H. Hoyer and Albert R. Wynn.

The Senate fell short of a veto-proof majority when it passed the bill 64-36 in May, but Republican leaders hope to pick up the votes needed to change that outcome.

In the impassioned debate that preceded the House vote, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat from Washington, D.C., said the bill "forces an intolerable trade-off between the mother and the fetus -- and comes down on the side of the fetus."

But House Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry J. Hyde, an Illinois Republican and one of Congress' staunchest opponents of abortion, said: "We happen to believe that the health of the mother does not equal the life of the child."

The procedure is used to terminate up to 5,000 pregnancies annually.

"There's never a medical reason for this procedure," said Rep. Tom Coburn, a Republican physician from Oklahoma who has delivered more than 3,200 babies.

"It's a specious argument to say partial-birth abortion is required to save the life of a woman. It's a convenience to abortionists. It has to do with murder for the convenience of the abortionist."

The bill's opponents argued that politicians should not be intervening in decisions that should be left up to women and doctors.

And they predicted that, even if it became law, the Supreme Court would find it unconstitutional because it includes abortions performed in the second trimester of pregnancy and it fails to allow for considerations of the pregnant woman's health.

Courts in the past have limited abortion bans to the third trimester.

Rep. Chet Edwards accused the bill's sponsors of pushing an issue they know will be vetoed simply to score political points with their anti-abortion constituencies.

"This bill is designed for sound bites in campaign ads in the next election, not saving babies," the Texas Democrat said.

Edwards and Hoyer, who are generally opposed to abortion on demand, insisted that a compromise the president would sign was within reach but that Republicans wanted a political issue rather than workable legislation.

Pub Date: 10/09/97

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