Senate OKs partial birth ban

The U. S. Senate passed an act banning what it refers to as “partial-birth” abortion by a vote of 64-34 Tuesday night.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a similar act in June, and the bill will now be moved to President Bush for possible signature, which most expect.

“He’ll sign it right away,” said Susan Armacost, legislative director for Wisconsin Right to Life. “The pro-abortion force will challenge (the act) before the ink is even dry. They are literally camped-out in front of federal courts. I wouldn’t be surprised if they had sleeping bags.”

Julie Sternberg, staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, said she will represent the National Abortion Federation as well as individual plaintiffs in a case contending the law in the event that Bush signs it.

“The case is about the constitutionality of the partial-birth abortion act,” Sternberg said. “It violates a woman’s constitutional right to choose to carry a child to term or to terminate a pregnancy.”

The ACLU has been concerned with reproductive rights issues for 30 years, since the Supreme Courts’ decision in Roe v. Wade, she said.

During a “partial-birth” abortion, which Planned Parenthood refers to as a “dilation and extraction” type of abortion, a living fetus partially exits the woman’s body through vaginal delivery and the physician ends the fetus’ life before it is fully out. This procedure takes place only after 12 weeks of pregnancy in the second and third trimesters.

The main issue of constitutionality concerning this act, according to Sternberg, is the lack of a clause in the act allowing for the procedure to protect a woman’s health. The act does allow the procedure if a woman’s life is at risk. Sternberg said the Supreme Court decided on a case dealing with a Nebraska statute similar to this act in 2000.

“The Supreme Court clearly ruled that by omitting the health clause, the statute is unconstitutional,” Sternberg said. The health clause omission was one of two reasons the court ruled the statute unconstitutional, according to the court’s decision. Sternberg said this decision set a precedent requiring the health clause for legislation to be considered constitutional. She said she is confident the court will strike down the current legislation.

Armacost, however, said the health clause must be omitted for the act to be effective.

“Health has been defined by the Supreme Court as anything you want it to mean,” she said.

A woman’s life being at risk versus her health being at risk are two entirely different things in the context of abortion, Armacost said. Further, she said, there is not one case of a “partial-birth” abortion being used to protect a woman’s health.

Lisa Boyce, vice president of public affairs for Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin, disagreed.

“(This act) outlaws a medically safe procedure that physicians may determine is in the best interest of a woman’s health,” she said.

Boyce said there are several instances when a “dilation and extraction” abortion could be used to protect a woman’s health, such as when pregnancy causes high blood pressure. She said a physician might suggest the procedure to prevent a stroke.

Armacost said Wisconsin Right to Life was happy about the act and said it was a “challenge to the Supreme Court by Congress.” She said Wisconsin Right to Life was upset, however, that Sens. Herb Kohl (D- Wis.) and Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) voted against the act.

“We’re appalled Feingold and Kohl voted against the ban,” Armacost said. “It shows an abhorrent disregard for human life. There’s not an abortion out there they don’t approve of,” she said, referring to the senators’ histories of voting pro-choice.

She said Wisconsin Right to Life plans to make sure voters remember Feingold’s vote next year when he runs for re-election.

“It’s time to send Sen. Feingold home,” she said.

“The Democratic Party of Wisconsin is very proud of our two senators who stood up for Wisconsin women,” said Seth Boffeli, spokesman for the Democratic Party of Wisconsin.

Kohl and Feingold could not be reached for comment.