Three votes needed Sept. 17 to override Clinton's veto

WASHINGTON—The long-awaited showdown in the U.S. Senate to override President Clinton's veto of legislation to prohibit partial-birth abortions is expected Sept. 17. Pro-life forces need to pick up three more votes to pass the legislation without the president's signature.

The bill, HR 1122, passed both houses of Congress in 1997, but Clinton opposed the measure and prevented its enactment by choosing not to sign it. In such a case, Congress can, in effect, overrule the president by repassing the bill by a two-thirds majority in each chamber.

The House of Representatives overrode the veto July 23 by a 296-132 vote. In the Senate, 64 members have supported the legislation in the past; 67 votes are needed for passage.

The struggle to switch the votes of at least three senators has been intense. As in the past, grassroots efforts have been initiated by the U.S. Catholic Conference, other Catholic groups, and many organizations representing various religious and public policy perspectives.

The Catholic Conference, which provides staff support for the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (NCCB), launched a postcard and media campaign. In an ongoing effort, more than 14 million postcards have been distributed to churches for parishioners to express their views to Congress. Local parishes have also been provided with appropriate videos.

In addition, the NCCB developed a nine-day novena to Our Lady of Sorrows, which began Sept. 7, the vigil of the feast of the Birth of the Virgin Mary. The “9 Days for Life” will end Sept. 15, the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, and only two days before the Senate vote is expected. Each day reflects a different theme.

Information on the novena was distributed by Bernard Cardinal Law, chairman of NCCB Pro-Life Activities, to all bishops and pro-life directors around the country. The purpose of the novena, according to Father James Moroney of the NCCB's Secretariat for the Liturgy, is to seek the intercession of Mary for unborn children.

Other concerted Church efforts include a joint letter sent by Florida's nine bishops to Sen. Bob Graham (DFla.), an apparent supporter of partial-birth abortion. The bishops’ Aug. 18 letter said, “Your opposition to this ban is beyond our comprehension.”

Other groups have also been working to change votes. The Eagle Forum, a pro-family organization, has targeted 11 senators for its grassroots effort. President Phyllis Schlafly told the Register, “It's going to be beyond the pale to be on the wrong side of this issue. It will come back to haunt them.”

In Virgina, the 50,000-member Family Foundation has been working to change the vote of Sen. Charles Robb, a Democrat, who has steadfastly opposed a ban on partial-birth abortion. The Foundation's executive director, George Tryfiates, said such procedures are “a barbarism that the people of Virginia do not support. There should be no support for something so inhumane.”

The Christian Coalition, which is based in Chesapeake, Va., also has mobilized its supporters. It plans a Lobby for Life Day on Sept. 17 to pressure senators, including Robb. In one of its fliers which singles out Robb, it identifies partial-birth abortion as “100% infanticide — 100% wrong.”

Steve Forbes, who is expected to be a presidential candidate in 2000, told the Register, “I believe the moment has arrived to overturn the president's immoral and indefensible veto and take the first step toward putting abortion on the ultimate road to extinction.

“We're going to do everything we can to help, including running radio ads, newspaper ads, doing media interviews. We believe we can help mobilize public opinion. Perhaps if Congress feels the heat, they'll see the light and do the right thing.”

Several leading pro-life senators are preparing for the upcoming debate. Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), said, “We have an opportunity to reclaim some of the capital that has been lost in this country when the president vetoed the ban last year.

“By voting to ban this procedure we end the senseless murder of our nation's innocent babies and restore a sense of humanity and dignity to our public life,” he said. (See Santorum's “Perspective,” page 8.)

Sen. John Ashcroft, a Missouri Republican and another likely presidential candidate, added, “We must ask ourselves whether we, as a culture, will reject brutality toward infants in the same way that we have rejected brutality toward animals through experimentation, and whether we will return to standards that are worthy of recommendation to other countries and to our own children.

“I am pained to my core by the tragedy of partial-birth abortions and will work diligently in the Senate to reverse it,” he said.

In an interview with the Register, Arkansas Sen. Tim Hutchinson, another Republican, encouraged citizens to contact their senators about the issue. “It's going to be an exceptionally important vote,” he said, and success is within reach.

He added, “It's critical to get every senator on record in close proximity to the November election.” If the override effort fails, he suggested, it should be made a campaign issue to get more pro-life members in the new 106th Congress, which convenes next January.

The matter of how a vote to sustain partial-birth abortions might affect an incumbent running for reelection is an important one. Eight of the 36 supporters are candidates again this fall, and a few — notably Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun (D-Ill.) — are in competitive contests. Further, some polls indicate that more than two-thirds of Americans oppose partial-birth abortions.

Indeed, many feel public opposition toward the gruesome procedure is intensifying. Twenty-eight states have enacted laws prohibiting it, although court challenges have delayed enforcement in a number of jurisdictions.

The American Medical Association and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, among others, have criticized partial-birth abortion. Two physicians, writing in the Aug. 26 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association, offered a powerful indictment of the procedure. (See Helen Alvare's column, page 9.)

In the scholarly article, Drs. M. LeRoy Sprang and Mark Neerhof write that such abortions “should not be performed because it is needlessly risky, inhumane, and ethically unacceptable. This procedure is closer to infanticide than it is to abortion.”

Comments such as these — as well as those supporting partial-birth abortion — will increase over the next week. Pro-life supporters argue that pressure must continue to be placed on senators to outlaw an indefensible and horrific procedure. Father Frank Pavone, international director of Priests for Life, said, “People should never think for a minute that their call doesn't mean anything.”

Joseph Esposito writes from Washington, D.C.