Riding a new wave of political momentum, abortion foes Wednesday launched a second effort to ban a late-term abortion procedure and challenged President Clinton, who vetoed the same measure last year, to “see the error of his ways” and sign the bill.
As they pressed the case for outlawing a procedure referred to as the “partial-birth” abortion, its opponents stopped short of predicting victory. But they said they are buoyed by apparent electoral gains in the Senate and by the recent admission of an abortion-rights advocate that he and others lied during last year’s debate over the procedure.
But while the prospects for legislative success remain uncertain, backers of the proposed bill predicted clear rewards for their efforts. They suggested recent developments will prompt more Americans to rethink their position on abortion and put Clinton and other advocates of abortion rights further on the defensive.
“We’re going to hold the president’s feet to the fire,” said Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Ohio. “Maybe this time, he’ll see the error of his ways.”
Added Rep. Henry Hyde, R-Ill., Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, which is expected to vote on and approve the ban on partial-birth abortions as early as late next week, “We ought to give the president another chance to get it right.”
Passage of the measure is virtually certain in both chambers of Congress, meaning Clinton will again face the choice of signing the legislation or vetoing it a second time. While the House is likely to have the forces to override a presidential veto, it is less certain that abortion foes can muster the forces in the Senate to do the same. Last year, the override effort failed in the upper chamber in a 57-41 vote.
Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., told reporters she had received assurances from the White House the president again would veto a partial-birth abortion ban if it reached his desk in the same form it did last year.
In the past, Clinton has said he would sign a bill that provided exemptions for women whose pregnancies would severely threaten their health or future reproductive ability, or in cases where there was a serious fetal abnormality.
Abortion-rights advocates have stressed in addition that neither they nor Clinton could accept a ban on any abortion procedure that applied to pregnancies in which a fetus has not reached the point of viability - a point which is widely thought to occur sometime between 22 and 26 weeks. In a landmark 1973 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that any restrictions on abortion access before the point of fetal viability would be an unconstitutional infringement on a woman’s privacy.
Abortion foes, as they did last year, ruled out Wednesday accepting any such exemptions. They said such exceptions have been so broadly interpreted by the courts that they have failed to bar late-term abortions for healthy women carrying healthy fetuses.
In November’s election, abortion opponents believe they picked up some strength - as many as three new votes - in the Senate. In the House, where abortion opponents have held a commanding majority for the past several years, they appear to have lost only a handful of votes.
This year’s effort to ban partial-birth abortions comes just a week after the executive director of an abortion-rights group told a medical newspaper that he and his allies “lied” during last year’s debate about the numbers of and circumstances under which the controversial procedures were performed.
The abortion rights groups, said Ron Fitzsimmons of the National Coalition of Abortion Providers, never acknowledged that the “vast majority” of the partial-birth abortions were being performed on healthy mothers carrying healthy fetuses late in the second trimester of pregnancy.