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House votes to ban late-term abortions

Published Oct. 1, 2005

The House voted overwhelmingly Thursday to outlaw an increasingly controversial abortion procedure, renewing a fight with President Clinton that produced a veto of an identical measure last year.

Lawmakers approved the ban on what opponents call "partial-birth abortions" 295-136, a bigger margin than in last year's vote and enough to override a likely veto. Florida's entire Republican delegation voted for the bill, along with Democrats Allen Boyd and Jim Davis.

The vote gave the House Republican leadership a much-needed victory as Congress heads home for the two-week Easter recess. The action also gave the bill momentum in the Senate, where it will be considered after the recess.

The question now is whether GOP gains in the Senate last November, and an admission by one abortion-rights advocate that he lied about the nature and frequency of the procedure, will produce a veto-proof Senate majority.

"Right now we probably don't have the votes to override a veto, but it's getting closer," Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., said.

Last year, the House voted to overturn Clinton's veto, but Senate leaders could not muster the necessary two-thirds majority.

The measure would outlaw what it calls "partial-birth abortions," the term anti-abortion forces have given a procedure in which a fetus is pulled out of the birth canal, feet first. The surgeon then punctures the back of the fetus' head and removes the brain, permitting the skull to be partly collapsed and brought through the cervix, the narrowest part of the birth canal.

The bill would subject doctors who perform the procedure to fines and up to two years in prison. In addition, it would allow the father of the fetus and, if the woman is younger than 18, the woman's parents, to sue the doctor. The only exception in the bill is if no other procedure would save the woman's life.

The administration said Thursday that Clinton would veto the measure again if it does not include a broader exception to protect the woman's health, a term that the Supreme Court has held includes "all factors _ physical emotional, psychological, familial and the woman's age _ relevant to the well-being of the patient."

The House voted 282-149 to reject an effort by Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., to broaden the bill's exception to cover "serious adverse long-term physical health consequences to the mother."

White House chief of staff Leon Panetta said late last year that Clinton would object to any restrictions on the procedure before the fetus was capable of surviving outside the womb.

Opponents of abortion said their case had been strengthened by last month's admission by Ron Fitzsimmons, executive director of the National Coalition of Abortion Providers, that he had deliberately understated the number of such abortions and reasons for the procedure.

House GOP leaders scrapped a different version of the bill, which the Judiciary Committee approved last week, so they could send the president the same bill he vetoed last year. "In a different version, he might concoct a different reason" to veto the measure, said Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry Hyde, R-Ill.

Thursday's House debate was the fourth time lawmakers had considered the issue since late 1995, but it was still filled with emotion and passion. Supporters of the measure focused on the grisly details of the procedure. Rep. Charles Canady, R-Lakeland, a leading abortion opponent, said it bore "an undeniable resemblance to infanticide."

The bill's opponents countered that lawmakers should not make decisions that are better left to physicians.

Eight moderate Republicans, including Rep. Constance Morrella of Maryland, voted against the measure, and 77 Democrats, including some backers of abortion rights, voted for it.

_ Information from Associated Press was used in this report.