Communications Department

Statement by NRLC Legislative Director Douglas Johnson at Press Conference on the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act

Oct 2, 2002 | LegUpdates

Statement by NRLC Legislative Director Douglas Johnson at 
Press Conference on the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act

Sponsored by U.S. Senator Rick Santorum (R-Pa.)

Washington, D.C.

October 2, 2002

The Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act would be law today if Republicans held majority control in the U.S. Senate.  That is a simple statement of fact.

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.  Now a two-thirds majority is no longer required, because President Bush strongly supports the bill and will sign it if it reaches his desk.

The House passed the bill on July 24 by a vote of 274-151.  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.

On September 26, Senator Santorum formally proposed that the bill be brought up, subject to one amendment (including a substitute amendment) from each side, and voted on after two hours of debate.  The Democratic whip, Senator Harry Reid, objected to this request.

Majority Leader Tom Daschle (South Dakota) himself continues to tell the people back home in South Dakota that he still supports the ban – see, for example, the August 28 edition of the Sioux Falls Argus-Leader – but he also says that the Senate is too busy to consider the matter.  This won’t wash.  As soon as the House passed the bill, The New York Times reported (July 25), “Abortion rights advocates are counting on 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.”

If there was a clean up-and-down vote today on the bill passed by the House, the Senate would approve it.  At least 61 senators have voted for the ban in the last Congress, or have publicly committed to vote for it.

When the Senate last considered the bill in October, 1999, 63 senators voted to pass it (including 14 Democrats) – and two additional ban supporters were absent that day, so there were really 65 Senate supporters at that time.  Moreover, prior to the 2000 election, two of the Democratic Senate candidates who were ultimately elected publicly pledged to support the bill and to oppose weakening amendments, as did the two newly elected Republican senators.

Thus, if the ban on partial-birth abortions is not signed into law before Congress adjourns, it will be entirely due to a single factor:  the one-vote majority by which the Democrats control the Senate.

One other point:  Many senators who oppose the bill try to hide behind an alternative proposal that we call the “phony ban.”  Originally this was put forward in 1997 as the Daschle Substitute.  More recently it has been sponsored by Senator Richard Durbin (D-Il.).

Supporters of this bill describe it as a ban on all methods of “late-term” abortions, with an exception for cases in which a mother risks grave physical health damage.  In reality, the bill is artfully worded so that it would ban nothing at all.  It was written for the sole purpose of providing political cover.  I won’t take time here to critique the phony ban in detail, although such critiques exist.  Suffice to note that when the phony ban was first unveiled by Daschle 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 – read it and explained to every reporter who asked that it would allow him to perform a third-trimester abortion on “any pregnancy.”

For further information on subject of partial-birth abortions, including documentation on the frequency with which the method is used and the usual reasons, see the documents posted on the NRLC website at, especially at

Categories: LegUpdates