The House overwhelmingly passed a measure Wednesday that would ban all partial-birth abortions. A substitute bill, which would outlaw partial-birth abortions except in cases when the mother’s life is in danger, failed to garner support. Since President Clinton promises to veto the Republican-backed measure, and the Senate doesn’t have the two-thirds majority necessary to override a presidential veto, the gesture reeks of election-year politics.
Rather than vote on a bill that would take into account the value of a pregnant woman’s life, the House instead chose to back legislation that has little chance of becoming law. If Republican leadership truly cared about ending partial-birth abortions, it could have worked out a compromise. The doomed measure will only mobilize anti-abortion voters during the months leading up to election day.
The procedure involves removing the brain from the fetus, which partially collapses the skull, facilitating passage of the fetus through the cervix and out of the woman’s body. Many anti-abortion activists argue that partial-birth abortion – intact dilation and extraction in medical terminology – is inhumane. Proponents of the procedure maintain that partial-birth abortions are almost always practiced only when the fetus has severe abnormalities or when the mother’s life is in danger.
Ultimately, in the case of late-term partial-birth abortions, the mainstream opinion on both sides of the debate places respect of human life as the supreme goal. Anti-abortion activists are fighting to protect unborn fetuses, while pro-choice activists are fighting to protect women whose lives would be in danger if they gave birth. From a purely logical perspective, it seems that protecting the life of the mother should take precedence over protection of the life of an unborn fetus.
Moreover, women will have abortions even if laws exist prohibiting them. Thus, lawmakers are essentially deciding whether they would rather that women undergo procedures in the safety of abortion clinics or illegally by crude practices that are far more inhumane than legal methods.
Partial-birth abortions should be a last resort, performed only when the life of the fetus or the mother is in doubt. A ban on partial-birth abortions – largely an election-year political tactic – could senselessly cost women their lives.