Communications Department

U.S. House Passes Ban on Partial-Birth Abortion, 274-151; Will the Senate’s Democratic Leaders Kill the Ban?

Aug 6, 2002 | 2002 Press Releases

WASHINGTON (August 6, 2002) — With strong support from President Bush, the U.S. House of Representatives has passed NRLC-backed legislation to place a national ban on partial-birth abortions. The fate of the bill will now be decided by the Democratic leadership of the U.S. Senate.

The House approved the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act (H.R. 4965) by a bipartisan vote of 274-151 on July 24. The measure is sponsored by Congressman Steve Chabot (pronounced “SHA-bit”) (R-Ohio), and in the Senate by Senator Rick Santorum (R-Pa.).

In a statement sent to the House the day before the vote, the White House said, “The Administration believes that enactment of H.R. 4965 is morally imperative and constitutionally permissible to prohibit this very abhorrent form of abortion.”

But according to The New York Times (July 25), “Abortion rights advocates are counting of the majority leader, Senator Tom Daschle, Democrat of South Dakota, to prevent a bill from coming to the floor. ‘The Senate is our firewall,’ one abortion rights supporter said.”

The Democrats currently control the Senate by a single seat, 51-49. The majority leader has broad powers to schedule or to obstruct legislation.

On the same day the House passed the bill, Daschle told reporters that he thought the Senate might be too busy to consider the bill before the end of the session in October.

“We have so many things on the plate that we’re going to have to make some decisions about what merits the highest priority,” Daschle said.

Subsequently, Daschle’s press secretary, Jay Carson, told the Sioux Falls, South Dakota Argus Leader that Daschle “supports banning the procedure, but is not sure if there is room on the Senate’s schedule.

“There isn’t even enough days to get in everything that is already on it,” Carson said.

In response, Senator Santorum told NRL News, “We should never claim to be too busy to consider legislation promoting the protection of life. There is no need for a long debate — a few hours will suffice. The Senate has debated similar legislation many times.”

House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Tx.) said, “The House has acted in plenty of time for the Senate to do the same. We now have a president who will sign this bill. It must not become another tombstone in the Senate’s legislative graveyard.”

Congress has approved national bans on partial-birth abortion twice before, but they were vetoed by President Clinton in 1996 and 1997. On each occasion, the House voted to override the vetoes, but supporters fell short of the necessary two-thirds majority in the Senate.

The Senate last considered the bill in 1999, when 63 senators voted to pass it (including 14 Democrats), with two additional ban supporters absent.

But now with a president who is eager to sign the bill rather than veto it, “This time it is for keeps,” said Congressman Chabot.

Under Senate rules, no committee action is required on the bill that the House has passed. The House-passed bill is “on the Senate calendar,” which means that the majority leader could bring it up at any time for a vote. However, without the majority leader’s permission, bills “on the calendar” simply die without action.

“If there was a clean up-and-down vote on the bill passed by the House, the Senate would approve it,” said NRLC Federal Legislative Director Douglas Johnson. “If the ban on partial-birth abortion does not reach President Bush for his signature, the blame will rest squarely on the Senate Democratic leadership.”

Phony Ban Rejected

On July 24, the debate in the House covered much of the same ground as previous House debates on the issue.

The House Republican leadership, which supports the ban, brought the bill to the floor under a procedure that allowed opponents to offer only a single amendment, known as a “motion to recommit.” This motion, offered by pro-abortion Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wi.), would have added an exception to the bill to allow a partial-birth abortion “where it is necessary, in appropriate medical judgment, for the preservation of the life or health of the mother.”

The bill already contains a “life of mother” exception, but the addition of “health” would have allowed any abortionist the right to perform partial-birth abortions simply by asserting that it would protect the mental or emotional well-being of the mother.

Congressman Chabot warned that adoption of such a “health exception” would mean that each abortionist would enjoy “unfettered discretion in determining when a abortion can be performed.”

The House rejected the Baldwin motion, 241-187. The ban was then passed on a vote of 274-151.

NRLC’s Douglas Johnson noted that 37 House members first voted for the Baldwin killer amendment, which would have rendered the bill meaningless, and then voted to pass the bill after the amendment failed. These 37 lawmakers “showed that they weren’t really committed to enacting a genuine ban on partial-birth abortions.”

The roll calls on both the Baldwin motion and on final passage of the bill are posted in the 107th Congress voting record at the NRLC Legislative Action Center.

Pro-abortion House members complained that they were not allowed to offer another alternative proposal, sponsored by two of the pro-abortion leaders in the House, Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Jim Greenwood (R-Pa.), which they claimed would “ban” all methods of “late-term” abortion, but with a “health exception.” Congressman Hoyer repeatedly has admitted that this so-called “ban” (currently numbered H.R. 2702) actually would allow third-trimester abortions even for “mental health.”

In the Senate, a similar “phony ban” has been promoted by Senator Dick Durbin (D-Il.) and others. Commenting on the Senate version of the phony ban in 1997, Dr. Warren Hern — who is the author of the standard textbook on late-term abortion methods, and who performs many third-trimester abortions — said it would allow him to perform a third-trimester abortion on “any pregnancy,” since every pregnancy involves some risk.

One opponent, Rep. Nancy Johnson (R-Ct.), said she was “deeply offended” by the bill, which she called “the worst bill that has come before Congress.” She also asserted, “There are no late-term abortions of healthy babies that are legal.”

But bill supporter Rep. Sue Myrick (R-NC) said, “As a mother and a grandmother, it is still astonishing to me today that this is even remotely legal in America — but it is.”

Pro-Life Reactions to Vote

“We’re delighted that the House voted in an overwhelmingly bipartisan way to end this horrific procedure,” said Shannon Royce, director for government relations at the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “We hope and pray the Senate will take up the bill and pass it before the August recess.”

Cathleen Cleaver, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said, “This is a cruel and dangerous procedure — abhorred by most Americans, condemned by the American Medical Association, twice banned by Congress. It can no longer be justified by any but the most radical proponents of abortion. The fate of this bill now lies with the Senate.”

David Stevens, MD, Executive Director of the Christian Medical Association, noted, “Inflicting pain on developing infants such as that incurred during a partial-birth abortion would never be countenanced by any medical review team for human experimentation. There is absolutely no medical reason whatsoever that justifies allowing an abortionist to cut into the cranium of a developing baby, inflict a horrific level of pain, and then suction out its brain. If someone treated a dog in this inhumane way we would lock them up and throw away the key. If we can’t at least stop this horrible procedure, where can we draw the line?”

Pro-Abortion Reactions

NARAL President Kate Michelman called the House vote “a political stunt to shift the focus from the fact that women, not the government, should make medical decisions.”

Vicki Saporta, president of the National Abortion Federation, said that lawmakers who voted for the ban had “shirked their responsibility and ignored Supreme Court precedent.”

Carlton W. Veazey, president of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC), earlier said the bill “would impose a narrow religious view about abortion on everyone.” RCRC describes itself as “the national alliance of religious organizations from 16 denominations and faith traditions, including the Episcopal Church, Presbyterian Church (USA), United Methodist Church, United Church of Christ, Unitarian Universalist Association, and Reform and Conservative Judaism.”

History of the Bill

NRLC helped develop the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, which was originally introduced in 1995 by Congressman Charles Canady (R-Fl.), who retired from Congress in 2000.

Congress twice approved the ban, but President Bill Clinton vetoed those bans in 1996 and 1997. On each occasion, the House voted by more than the required two-thirds margin to override the vetoes, but in the Senate pro-life forces fell short of the two-thirds threshold.

During the 106th Congress (1999-2000), the House approved a ban for the third time. In October, 1999, the Senate also approved the ban, but only after adding an amendment, sponsored by Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), to endorse Roe v. Wade.

The House and Senate had not yet resolved their differences on that bill when, on June 28, 2000, a five-justice majority of the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a Nebraska law that was similar to the proposed federal ban. (By that time, twenty-three other states had also passed genuine bans on partial-birth abortion.) In that case, Stenberg v. Carhart, the majority ruled that Roe v. Wade covered even the brutal practice of partial-birth abortion. Pro-life leaders in Congress subsequently shifted their focus to other issues for a time.

The new bill introduced in the current Congress differs in two respects from the versions previously vetoed by President Clinton. Both changes were made in response to the Supreme Court’s Carhart ruling.

The first change is in the definition of “partial-birth abortion.” The five-justice majority in Carhart thought that Nebraska’s definition of “partial-birth abortion” was vague and could be construed to cover not only abortions in which the baby is mostly delivered alive before being killed, but also the more common “dilation and evacuation” (D&E) method. In a D&E abortion, a well-developed unborn child is dismembered piece by piece, and during this process arms or legs are sometimes pulled into the birth canal before being torn off.

In order to avoid any possibility of such confusion, the new bill defines a prohibited partial-birth abortion as one in which “the person performing the abortion deliberately and intentionally vaginally delivers a living fetus until, in the case of a head-first presentation, the entire fetal head is outside the body of the mother, or, in the case of breech presentation, any part of the fetal trunk past the navel is outside the body of the mother,” and then kills the baby. [italics added for emphasis]

In Carhart, the five-justice majority ruled that an abortionist must be allowed to use the partial-birth abortion method if he believes that it is the method which has the lowest risk of side effects for any particular woman seeking an abortion in the second trimester or third trimester. The majority reached this result by deferring to findings of fact by the trial court, which were based on acceptance of assertions by late-term abortionist Dr. LeRoy Carhart and others that the partial-birth abortion method was sometimes the method least likely to cause side effects.

H.R. 4965 addresses this issue by incorporating congressional “findings” that partial-birth abortion is never necessary to protect the health of a woman and, indeed, exposes a woman to substantial and additional health risks.

The findings also cite certain past rulings in which the Supreme Court has recognized and deferred to the broad fact-finding powers of Congress.


Urge your senators to demand that the Senate send the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act to President Bush!


Please read the story above about the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, which has passed the House of Representatives and is awaiting action in the Senate. Then, visit the NRLC Legislative Action Center and send a free e-mail to each of your U.S. Senators, urging them to demand an immediate vote to send H.R. 4965 to President Bush for his signature.

You also can send messages to your U.S. senators by calling their offices through the Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121. In addition, for many senators you can obtain fax numbers and phone numbers for both their Washington and in-state offices at the NRLC Legislative Action Center.

Because of security concerns, there are now long delays in delivery and counting of regular mail. Therefore, e-mail, faxes, and phone calls are highly recommended.

In addition, Congress is in recess until after Labor Day. Many senators are making public appearances in their states during the month of August, and/or over the Labor Day weekend. Such appearances can provide an excellent opportunity to directly urge a senator to demand a vote on sending the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act (H.R. 4965) to President Bush for his signature.

Your message to senators should be along these lines:

I am strongly opposed to the brutal partial-birth abortion procedure. The House has already passed the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act (H.R. 4965) by an overwhelming margin, and President Bush is eager to sign this bill into law. I urge you to demand an immediate vote to send this bill to President Bush for his signature. If this bill is not enacted, it will be the Democratic leadership of the Senate that is entirely to blame.

Please oppose any attempts to kill this bill with procedural obstructions or with “killer amendments,” such as the Durbin Amendment. The Durbin Amendment would allow partial-birth abortions without restriction before a baby has provably reached the point of “viability,” and even after “viability” based on abortionists’ assertions that the mother is at any degree of “risk” of health problems. This amendment is a complete sham, which would allow abortionists to perform partial-birth abortions even on babies who could easily survive independently of their mothers.

Please also take these steps:

* Urge your fellow citizens to communicate with the senators, too. Utilize newsletters, church bulletins, call-in radio shows, and other means to alert pro-life citizens to this crucial fight.

* Write letters or op-ed essays for local newspapers, highlighting the critical votes that senators will soon cast.

* If you obtain information on any senator’s position (including information reported in the press), please forward it to NRLC by e-mail to (preferred), or by fax to (202) 347-3668, or by regular mail to NRLC, Federal Legislation, 512-10th Street, Northwest, Washington, D.C. 20004-1401. Thank you!