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Religious Tolerance logo

D&X / PBA Procedures:

Failed attempts to pass a federal law
to ban the practice: 1997 (Cont'd) to 2001.
Part 2

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This is a continuation of Part 1

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1997 Federal bill (Cont'd):

Reporting on these bills by the media and by conservative Christian organizations appeared very imprecise and confusing. 1,2 The Democratic bill is often described as allowing D&Xs for simple health reasons. e.g.: if the woman is depressed about the pregnancy, or she had suddenly decided in her 8th month of pregnancy that a baby would be too great an economic or emotional burden to handle. Such reporting ignores the fact that the Democratic version of the bill would not allow a D&X procedure for such simple health reasons. There would have to be the probability of extremely serious, grievous and perhaps permanently disabling health damage to the woman.

The American Medical Association went on record as supporting HR 1122. 3 Their AMA's expert panel could not find "any identified situation" in which a D&X was "the only appropriate procedure to induce abortion."

A hysterotomy is like a Caesarian section It is the one alternative procedure that could be performed instead of a D&X procedure. It is major surgery which would expose the woman to the possibility of an infection, would require a longer recovery period, would leave a scar, and might impact very negatively on future pregnancies. But it would not involve the partial delivery of a fetus. 

The AMA is normally opposed to legislation that criminalizes a medical procedure, but have supported bills "where the procedure was narrowly defined and not medically indicated." In this case, they decided to support the bill after it was modified to provide that "any accused physician [had] the right to have his or her conduct reviewed by the State Medical Board before a criminal trial commenced."

The Republican version of the bill was passed by the House by 295 to 136. A slightly revised version was passed by the Senate on 1997-MAY-20 by 64 to 36. Senators repeated the usual charges: 

bullet Senator Rick Santorum, (R-PA) said: "This is about infanticide. We worry so much about the right to choose. What about the right to choose life, to give this baby a chance.'' [The answer is obvious: allowing the birth to continue would result in the death or very serious, long term injury to the woman.]
bullet Senator Barbara Boxer, (D-CA) said: ''This bill does harm. Please do not relegate women to the status that says their life and their health does not matter.'' [Her comment is not particularly rational. All sides in the issue agree that if the woman's life is in danger, that she should have a D&X. They only disagree about situation where long term disability would result without a D&X.]

The House then agreed to the Senate version by a vote of 296 to 132 on 1997-OCT-8. As written, the bill would prohibit a D&X in cases where severe injury, massive health damage or permanent disability would occur to the woman. Because of this, President Clinton vetoed the bill on 1997-OCT-10.

The bill was returned to the House of Representatives, who voted to override the President's veto by more than a 2/3 majority on 1998-JUL-23. The Senate's vote was delayed until SEP-18, presumably to maximize its impact on the fall elections. Although their vote was 64 to 36 in favor of overriding the veto, it was an insufficient margin. The vote was unchanged from when they last passed the bill in 1997-MAY. None of the senators changed their minds. The vote fell short of a 2/3 majority by 3 votes.

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1999 Federal bill:

The U.S. Senate debated the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 1999 in 1999-OCT. A repetition of earlier attempts occurred. i.e.:
bullet There would be a consensus in the Senate that D&Xs should be severely restricted.
bullet The bill would have allowed a D&X if it is necessary to save the life of the woman.
bullet The bill would have allowed a D&X if the fetus is dead.

bullet The bill would not have allowed a D&X if it is needed to prevent very serious, long term, and potentially disabling injury to the woman.

bullet President Clinton indicated that he would refuse to sign the bill into law unless it contained the above escape clause.

bullet The bill's promoters said that any form of a health clause cannot be included. As Eagle Forum President Phyllis Schlafly states: "Health is something which is expanded so widely under Supreme Court rulings that it would nullify any prohibition on partial-birth abortions."

bullet Democrats brought forth a health clause amendment which would circumvent the Supreme Court definition "health" and allow D&Xs on live fetuses only in the event of a very serious disabling injury to the woman. The amendment was defeated.
bullet The bill was passed.
bullet The president vetoed it. 
bullet The veto was overridden by the House.
bullet It was passed 63 to 34 by the Senate. This is two votes short of the level needed to overrule a presidential veto.
bullet The level of very serious and long-lasting maternal disability will not increase in the U.S. Near-term and full term fetuses will continue to be killed via D&X procedures, whenever doctors and pregnant women decide together that they are warranted.

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Year 2000 Federal bill:

On 2000-APR-5, the House passed the bill 287 to 141. Truth was again the first casualty. The usual misinformation circulated about the PBA's:

bullet Tom Coburn (R-OK) said:
"We do not believe it is proper to rationalize one moral error with another moral error. The first moral error is attaining an unwanted pregnancy."

Coburn seems to imply that all D&X procedures are performed on women who did not want to have a baby. In the U.S., about half of pregnancies are unintended and half of those are terminated early in pregnancy through abortion. In late pregnancy, when D&X abortions are performed, most are intended pregnancies by women who want a baby. However,their desire is thwarted and a D&X is sometimes needed because of serious medical developments.

Coburn continued:

"The second moral error is to eliminate that pregnancy because it inconveniences you."

Again, the vast majority of women who are given a D&X or hysterotomy receive it out of necessity. If they didn't really want to be pregnant, essentially all would have had a early abortion.

Coburn's statement overlooks the fact that the Republicans and Democrats in Congress and the president all want to create a law that regulates D&X procedures. The only point of contention is whether a woman who would be seriously disabled by continuing her pregnancy should be allowed to have the procedure.  A D&X is performed to end a pregnancy that has gone horribly bad; they are unrelated to pregnancies that are unwanted, except by coincidence.


Helen Alvare, spokesperson for the National Conference of Catholic Bishops/U.S. Catholic Conference, said:

"We have continued to increase our support in Congress with every vote. We have continued to reach pro-abortion members of Congress who have never voted with us before."

To our knowledge, there are no "pro-abortion" members of Congress. There are many "pro-lifers" who want to reduce or eliminateaccess to abortion; there are many "pro-choicers" who want to give women the ability to choose to have an early abortion, and access to later abortions should circumstances warrent. There are no "pro-abortion" members of Congress -- persons who actually promote abortion.


Carrie Earll, spokesperson for the fundamentalist Christian group Focus on the Family said

"It's gruesome. It's brutal, and it is infanticide. It is not abortion...We're not going to role over and say, 'OK, well, we'll just let you go ahead and keep brutally killing late-term babies like this.' "

A D&X procedure is not infanticide because it is performed on a fetus which has not been born -- generally to save the life of the mother, or because the fetus is dead. There are alternative methods of terminating advanced pregnancies that have gone terribly wrong. However, they place the woman at greater risk.

In his 2000-AUG-3 acceptance speech as presidential nominee for the Republican Party, George W Bush indicated that, as president, he would sign into law a bill that outlawed D&X procedures.

Representative Steve Chabot, (R-OH) introduced a revamped anti-D&X bill. Debate over this bill was like those of previous years:

bullet The vast majority in congress will favor allowing D&X procedures in those very rare instances where it is required to save the life of a woman.

bullet The vast majority will favor prohibiting D&X procedures in those very rare instances when it is merely the wish of the woman to terminate her pregnancy.

bullet Democrats and Republicans will be split over the use of a D&X procedure which are needed to save the woman from permanent and seriously disabling injuries. Democrats will favor allowing the woman to choose whether to have the procedure; Republicans will favor forbidding it.

bullet The bill never emerged from Congress.

In its decision to declare the Nebraska state D&X law unconstitutional, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled "that significant medical authority supports the proposition that in some circumstances [D&X procedure] would be the safest procedure" for pregnant women who wish to undergo an abortion. 4

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. National Right to Life, "Clinton Again Stands in the Way of Ban On Brutal Partial-Birth Abortion Procedure," 1997-MAY-19 at:  
  2. Concerned Women for America, "Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act Passes House!" 1997-OCT-8, at:
  3. P. John Seward, M.D., Exec. VP of the American Medical Association, Letter to The Honorable Rick Santorum, 1997-MAY-19, at:
  4. "Stenberg v. Carhart," 530 U.S. 914, 932 (2000).

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Copyright © 1996 to 2010 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Last updated: 2010-JUN-27

Author: B.A. Robinson
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