Noting that he and his wife had had only one child, President Clinton on Friday emotionally defended his veto of a bill that would have banned a kind of late-term abortion. But, as he had previously, the president opened the door to a compromise if Congress would create an exception allowing the procedure in cases of a pregnancy that threatened a woman’s health.
While Clinton did not stake out new ground on a politically volatile issue that was an undercurrent in the recent presidential race, he became particularly impassioned as he spoke at a news conference of the personal quandary that he said the legislation had posed.
The bill, which the president vetoed in April, would have outlawed intact dilation and evacuation, an abortion procedure that opponents call partial birth abortion. In this late-term method, a fetus is partly extracted from the birth canal, feet first, and the brain is then suctioned out, allowing the rest of the fetus to pass through. The grim nature of the procedure has made it particularly controversial, even among some people who ordinarily support abortion rights.
“The problem is,” Clinton said, “there are a few hundred women every year who have personally agonizing situations where their children are born or are about to be born with terrible deformities, which will cause them to die either just before, during or just after childbirth.
“And these women, among other things, cannot preserve the ability to have further children unless the enormity - the enormous size of the baby’s head is reduced before being extracted from their bodies.”
In the past, the president has confided to acquaintances that he and his wife had difficulties conceiving their daughter, Chelsea. Friday he said:
“You know, Hillary and I only - we only had one child. And I just cannot look at a woman who’s in a situation where the baby she is bearing, against all her wishes and prayers, is going to die anyway, and tell her that I’m signing a law which will prevent her from ever having another child.”