House Overturns Abortion Ban Veto

In a vote timed for the election season, the Republican-controlled House Thursday backed an override of President Clinton's veto of legislation to ban certain late-term abortions.

The vote was 296-132, a bipartisan margin that was 10 more than the two-thirds needed to override a veto of the "partial-birth abortion" measure.

The action sent the measure to the Senate, where Republicans face an uphill attempt to complete the override of the veto. No vote is expected there until September at the earliest, a few weeks before Election Day.

"Think of the babies who are subjected to this horrible procedure," urged Rep. Charles Canady, R-Fla., chief architect of the vetoed bill. He urged the House to overrule "President Clinton's extremist position in support of partial-birth abortions."

Critics of the bill said it was unconstitutional, because it did not make exceptions to protect the health of the mother. They also charged Republicans with trying to score political points rather than deal seriously with a troubling issue.

"This is a political issue for the 1998 election," said Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., who referred to the override attempt as a Republican "agenda item." Clinton vetoed the bill last fall, but GOP leaders sidetracked the issue until several months elapsed and Election Day drew closer.

There was little doubt about the outcome of the House vote, since the bill cleared last year by more than the two-thirds majority that would be needed to override the veto. In addition, the House once before has overridden President Clinton's veto on this issue.

Canady and others pointed to a recent attempted abortion in Arizona to make their point that so-called "partial birth" procedures should be banned. In that case, doctors said another doctor began to perform an abortion, then realized the gestational age of the fetus was older than he initially believed and wound up delivering a live baby with a skull fracture and facial lacerations.

The doctor has had his medical license suspended.

In the Senate, the bill originally passed by a vote of 64-36, three votes shy of a two-thirds majority.

Other than exceptions in which the life of the mother is in jeopardy, the legislation would ban a procedure in which a fetus is partially delivered, feet first, and then an incision is made in a barely visible skull and its contents drained.

It also provides a maximum of two years in jail and fines on anyone who performs such a procedure, and exposes them to lawsuits filed by the father.

President Clinton cast his veto last October, declaring that while the operation seems inhumane, denying it in "rare and tragic circumstances" would be worse.

Written by David Espo