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BY Joshua Mercer
WASHINGTON — A new poll revealing widespread public support for a ban on partial-birth abortion was announced just days before the U.S. House voted to ban the procedure on April 5. In a lopsided 287-141 vote, the House passed the ban for the third time in four years.
While the House vote had the two-thirds majority needed to override a promised presidential veto, it appears that supporters of the ban will fall two votes shy of attaining that threshold in the Senate.
The MarketFacts poll found that 68% of Americans support a ban on partial-birth abortions. Fewer than 20% oppose such a ban and about 13% said they didn't know or refused to answer.
The poll shows a 4-point increase from a January CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll, in which 64% of respondents supported a ban.
“There is no mistaking how strongly Americans reject partial-birth abortion,” said Helen Alvaré, director of planning and information for U.S. bishops’ Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities, which commissioned the poll with the Knights of Columbus.
“Year in and year out polls have shown enormous support — in the upper 60 percentiles — for a bill banning this procedure,” said Alvaré. “Still, these numbers must be translated by Congress into a vote sufficient to overcome an expected presidential veto.”
Under the procedure that would be outlawed by the ban, a baby is delivered feet-first until only the head remains inside the mother's body. The abortionist then slices the baby's neck and mechanically removes the brains, collapsing the skull. The abortionist then finishes the delivery of the now-dead baby.
Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., said the ban on the procedure was an essential step to save “at least some of the children.”
“This is about putting to an end a horrific procedure in which live babies are killed during childbirth.” Said Smith: “This is a practice that if done two minutes later and one inch further, would legally be considered murder. This is murder.”
Smith noted that defenders of partial-birth abortion find little support from Americans for their stance.
“Opponents of this ban claim that we are radical in putting forth this legislation, yet seven out of 10 Americans support this bill,” said Smith. “So evidently, it is those who support this horrific procedure that are radicals.”
Seventy-seven Democrats joined 209 Republicans in supporting the ban while eight Republicans voted with 132 Democrats in opposing the ban. One independent voted for the ban and one independent voted against it.
Those who voted No focused less on the partial-birth abortion ban than on the presumed political tactics of the bill's sponsors.
“Proponents of this bill are not just chipping away at the right to choose, they are taking a jackhammer to it,” said Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y.
The bill would not reach President Clinton's desk until the fall because the House and Senate must first iron out the differences between two bills they passed. The Senate version of the ban also contained nonbinding language affirming Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court case that helped legalize abortion nationwide.
Republicans remain hopeful that by sending the bill to Clinton close to the election, Clinton might sign the ban into law.
“Clinton vetoed welfare reform twice before finally signing the Republican bill — and he has taken credit for the results ever since,” said Republican National Committee Chairman Jim Nicholson. “He could do the same here. The Clinton-Gore administration and the congressional Democrats have allowed this brutal practice to go on for too long.”
Clinton has vetoed two previous bans on partial-birth abortion.
“But for the president's veto,” Douglas Johnson, legislative director for the National Right to Life Committee, told the Register, the federa l ban would already be law since 1996.
He added that partial-birth abortion demonstrated the importance of the upcoming presidential election.
“With a pro-life president, we could ban this brutal practice,” said Johnson. “As president, Al Gore would continue the era of partial-birth abortion.”
Battle Moves to Court
The Clinton administration had hoped to express its support for partial-birth abortion by having the Justice Department defend the procedure before the Supreme Court in an upcoming case, Stenberg vs. Carhart, which will be argued April 25. The case concerns Nebraska's attempt to ban partial-birth abortion. It will be the first time the court has taken up abortion since 1992.
It is not uncommon for the Justice Department to make such a request. The high court usually allows the government's representatives to speak.
But the court on April 3 refused the request.
Said Johnson: “The Clinton/Gore administration is using every power at its command. Now they are trying to hinder the attempts of 27 legislatures.”
Johnson noted that while 27 states have passed bans on partial-birth abortion, only eight are currently in effect because of court challenges.
The Justice Department did submit an amicus brief in late March in which the U.S. solicitor general argued that the Nebraska law is unconstitutionally vague and “fails to provide an exception to preserve the pregnant woman's health.”
Life of the Mother?
Johnson said that the concerns over the woman's health were effectively refuted by the American Medical Association, which endorsed the ban in 1997.
In a letter to a senator, the association's president, John Seward, noted that partial-birth abortion was “a procedure we all agree is not good medicine.”
The association could endorse the bill, he said, because it “would allow a legitimate exception where the life of the mother was endangered, thereby preserving the physician's judgment to take any medically necessary steps to save the life of the mother.”
Some pro-lifers took issue with that exception, which remains in both the Senate and House bills, because it could be abused to allow partial-birth abortions to continue.
Judie Brown, president of the American Life League, said “any mother will be at liberty to apply her emotional, psychological, familial situation to the ‘life of the mother’ exception and thereby qualify for this abhorrent act of infanticide.”