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House Bans Abortion Method Doctors Could Be Jailed, Fined For Controversial Procedure

By a lopsided margin, the House voted Wednesday to ban a rare but gruesome procedure associated with late-term abortions, but the White House quickly said President Clinton has serious concerns about the bill and “cannot support” it.

The administration statement did not say flatly that Clinton would veto the measure if it reached his desk. But that question could be moot because the anti-abortion bill faces a likely filibuster in the Senate, as Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., made clear minutes after the House’s action.

The bill was approved by a vote of 288-139, with 73 Democrats joining 215 Republicans in a move that would create federal authority for the first time to regulate a specific, established medical procedure. The margin indicated there are enough votes in the House to override a Clinton veto.

In addition to banning the so-called partial-birth abortions, the bill would punish doctors who perform the procedure by prison terms of up to two years or monetary fines, or both.

Moreover, the measure would allow the father or the maternal grandparents, if the birth mother is under 18, to file a civil lawsuit against the doctor for monetary damages.

The legislation grants doctors a defense against criminal prosecution and civil lawsuit if they can prove that they had “reasonably believed” that the procedure was necessary to save a woman’s life and that “no other procedure would suffice for that purpose.”

But critics said such an “affirmative defense” is all but meaningless since it would come into play only after an accused physician is arrested and charged.

“This means that it’s available to the doctor after the handcuffs have snapped around his or her wrists, bond has been posted, and the criminal trial is under way,” said Rep. Pat Schroeder, D-Colo.

The controversial abortion technique is typically performed when a woman’s life is in danger or to abort a deformed fetus that is not expected to survive.

The procedure requires a physician to extract a fetus, feet first, from the womb and through the birth canal until all but its head is exposed. Then the tips of surgical scissors are thrust into the base of the fetus’s skull, a suction catheter is inserted through the opening and the brain is removed.

The House debate was filled with impassioned, sometimes angry, rhetoric - and often saw members of the same political party harshly attacking one another’s positions.

During the debate, members on both sides of the aisle - and of the issue - displayed graphic drawings and stomach-churning photographs to drive home their points. xxxx HOW THEY VOTED How the region’s congressmen voted in 288-139 roll call to ban certain late-term abortions. Idaho: Republicans - Chenoweth, Y; Crapo, Y. Montana: Democrats - Williams, N. Washington: Republicans - Dunn, Y; Hastings, Y; Metcalf, Y; Nethercutt, Y; Smith, Y; Tate, Y; White, Y. Democrats - Dicks, N; McDermott, N.