Posted 12:52pm October 11
by Melissa Kronfeld
U-WIRE Washington Bureau
Last Thursday the House voted, 281-142, to ban partial birth abortion. If President Bush signs the bill, which could reach the Senate floor as early as Friday, it will become the first federal law since the infamous 1973 Roe v Wade case to restrict a woman’s right to choose.
The procedure requires physicians to extract the fetus, feet first, from the womb until the head is exposed. Then surgical scissors are thrust into the base of the skull and a suction catheter is inserted to remove the brain. Used primary during the second and third trimesters, its most predominate use is justified when abnormalities are detected in the fetus.
Anti-abortion groups are celebrating this victory. Organizations like the American Family Association, have labeled partial abortion “government sponsored infanticide,” and have crusaded for legislation that would ban its use.
“Two-thirds of Congress, 70 percent of the public, and four Supreme Court Justices say there is no constitutional right to deliver most of a living baby and then puncture her head with scissors,” stated Douglass Johnson, the legislative director for the National Right to Life. The NRLC has spent eight years lobbying for the bill.
Abortion rights groups are disappointed.
“No one is surprised by the House’s passage today of the so-called partial birth abortion ban, but I know it will help us rally reproductive rights supporters across the country,” said Kim Gandy, President of the National Organization for Women. “You won’t find the term ‘partial birth abortion’ in any medical dictionary. That’s because it doesn’t exist in the medical world — it’s a fabrication of the anti-choice machine.”
NOW calls this bill what it really is: An abortion procedures ban. Like each of its predecessors, they say H.R. 760 was intentionally worded so vaguely that it could criminalize even some of the safest and most common abortion procedures after 12 weeks and well before fetal viability.
It is not the first time this bill has garnered such attention. Every year since 1995, the bill has been in the forefront of the political agenda. Former President William Jefferson Clinton vetoed the bill twice during his eight years in office. He justified his veto by stating that the bill lacked any provision that would allow the abortion in light of health concerns for the mother or child.
The bill’s sponsors passed it through the House by complying with the court’s objections that the definition of partial abortion was to vague. The fear was that physicians would be unable to differentiate between legal and illegal abortion, opening them up to criminal charges. If the ban is passed, physicians that execute the procedure could face up to two years in prison. Thirty states in the U.S. have already enacted legislation similar to the one currently being debated.
The symbolic importance of the ban is the most crucial issue at hand. While anti-abortion groups view the decision as a reversal of Roe v. Wade, abortion rights groups believe the bill to be a part of a much larger agenda that will ban all abortions and erode the fundamental right of a woman to choose.
Momentum has begun to build among these groups in regards to how they will combat it. The Center for Reproductive Rights and the National Abortion Federation have already sought representation from the American Civil Liberties Union to file lawsuits if the bill is made into law.