In a victory for abortion rights forces, the Senate voted Wednesday to delay action on a bill outlawing certain late-term abortions until the Judiciary Committee holds public hearings.
The motion to refer the measure to committee passed with a surprisingly lopsided margin of 90-7 after the bill’s proponents agreed to drop efforts to block hearings. The committee was given until Nov. 27 to complete the hearings.
The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Bob Smith, R-N.H., contended hearings were unnecessary. But said that after discussing the matter with Bob Dole, “We do think that it may not be a bad idea, in that the more one learns about this horrible procedure, the harder it is to defend it.”
Smith accused opponents of trying to push the prickly issue of late-term abortion out of the spotlight.
“They don’t want to see what happens in this grisly, disgusting procedure,” he said. “That’s why they want to move it off the floor.”
Senators who support abortion rights had argued that hearings were needed because the Senate did not have the medical expertise to judge the bill’s effect on women’s reproductive health and safety.
They said abortion foes’ graphic descriptions of the procedure sensationalized the issue, but did not consider the traumatic circumstances of women who needed the procedure because their lives were endangered by pregnancy or their babies had lethal abnormalities.
Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said the bill would ban “a lifesaving procedure. If that’s what we’re going to do, we’re going to become physicians … we ought to have a hearing and know what we’re talking about.”
The bill would criminalize a rare type of dilation and extraction procedure.
Under the bill, physicians would face up to two years in prison and could be sued for damages by a woman’s family members.
Abortion rights supporters said they believe they have a chance of getting the bill modified by the Judiciary Committee to include an exception for the life and health of the mother.