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Senate Passes So-Called “Partial-Birth” Abortion Ban

After rejecting several amendments protecting women’s reproductive health and rights, the Senate yesterday passed a bill that will ban so-called “partial-birth” abortions. The Senate vote was 64-33, with 16 Democrats and 48 Republicans supporting the bill and 29 Democrats, three Republicans, and one Independent opposing it. Senators also passed an amendment to the bill 52-46 affirming their support for abortion rights as guaranteed by Roe v. Wade. However, Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH), sponsor of an identical bill in the House, said that the final bill was not likely to retain this amendment, according to the Washington Times.

The bill (S. 3) does not include an exception in cases where the woman’s health is threatened, and senators rejected an amendment to add a health exception to the bill, opening it up to constitutional challenges. A similar ban on “partial-birth” abortion in Nebraska was struck down for that reason by the US Supreme Court in 2000 in Stenberg v. Carhart. Senator Mike DeWine (R-OH), who co-wrote the bill, said that a health exception was not needed because “partial-birth abortion is simply never medically indicated,” according to the New York Times. However, medical experts interviewed by the Los Angeles Times said that of the two options available for physicians to use in midterm abortions, the dilation and extraction procedure misleadingly referred to as “partial-birth” abortion by its opponents is often the safest. “You can see this is not [members of Congress’s] area of expertise. They think they are banning something that is dangerous. The opposite is true,” Dr. Ann Davis, professor of obstetrics at Columbia University, told the LA Times. “And the public has been confused into thinking this is something that takes place right before birth. They are talking about infanticide. We agree we shouldn’t do abortions after the point of viability.”

The bill has also been criticized by abortion rights supporters for its vague wording, which threatens to prevent doctors from performing various types of abortions, including safe early term procedures. The definition of the procedure in the Senate’s bill was written by abortion opponents and does not match the official definition of “dilation and extraction” by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, according to the Washington Post. The bill also imposes criminal penalties on doctors who perform the procedure, raising concerns by the American Medical Association and individuals doctors. “In medicine, things happen quickly. You have a patient who is bleeding. We are trained to deal with the unexpected,” said Dr. Paul Blumenthal, professor of obstetrics at Johns Hopkins University, according to the LA Times .

Sources:

LA Times 3/13/03New York Times 3/14/03; Washington Post 3/14/03; Feminist Daily News Wire