Legislative efforts in the United States to prohibit 'partial-birth abortion'
By William E. May

In 1995 the House of Representatives of the United States Congress (with over 400 members ) introduced a bill to prohibit partial-birth abortion. The bill was approved by an overwhelming majority on 1 November 1995. On 7 December 1995, the Senate (with 100 members, two from each of the 50 states) voted by a substantial majority to support the legislation, amended to include an exception in the event that the procedure was judged absolutely necessary to save the mother's life. But President Clinton vetoed the bill on 10 April 1996. The bill could still, however, become the law of the land if both of the houses of Congress voted by a two-thirds majority to override the President's veto. The House of Representatives did so, and by a greater than two-thirds majority voted to override Clinton's veto later that year. On 26 September 1996, 57 of the 100 senators also voted to override Clinton's veto, but 41 voted to sustain it, while 2 senators abstained. Although a majority of the senators voted to override, Clinton's veto was upheld because of the failure to achieve a two-thirds majority or 67 votes to override. Of the 41 senators who upheld Clinton's veto and thus voted to keep partial-birth abortion legal eight were Catholics. (6)

In 1997, when a newly elected Congress convened, a new "Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act", "HR 1122", was introduced by members of the House of Representatives, and on 20 March 1997 an overwhelming majority of House members voted in favor of this pro-life bill. On 20 May 1997 the Senate by a large majority approved the bill. But on 10 October 1997 President Clinton again vetoed the legislation. His veto was again overridden by a greater than two-thirds majority of the members of the House of Representatives in 1998, and on 18 September 1998, 64 senators also voted to override Clinton's veto, while 36 senators voted to sustain it. The senate vote thus fell three votes short of the two-thirds majority needed to override Clinton's veto. Among the 36 senators who refused to override Clinton's veto and thus voted to keep this barbaric form of abortion legal in the United States were 10 Catholics! (7) Had only three of these 10 Catholic senators joined the great majority of their colleagues in both houses of Congress to override Clinton's veto, this bill, urgently needed to protect unborn children from a particularly barbaric form of abortion, would have become law and partial-birth abortion would now be a criminal offence in the United States. Tragically, because of the failure of these Catholic senators to do what lay in their power to protect the unborn from this cruel death, partial-birth abortion is still legally permitted in the United States and is carried out many times a day.

6. The eight Catholic senators who voted to uphold Clinton's veto and thus voted in favor of partial-birth abortion were: Thomas Daschle, Christopher Dodd, Thomas Harkin, Edward Kennedy, John Kerry, Barbara Mikulski, Carol Moseley-Braun and Patty Murray.

7. When this vote was taken, Thomas Daschle, who had upheld Clinton's veto in 1996, to his credit this time voted to override his veto and make the bill prohibiting partial-birth abortion legal. However, Senators Dodd, Harkin, Kennedy, Kerry, Mikulski, Moseley-Braun and Murray who had earlier sustained Clinton's veto, again refused to override it and afford some protection to unborn children. And to their number were added three new Catholic senators who had been elected in November 1996, namely Susan Collins, Richard Durbin and Jack Reed.

Michael J. McGivney Professor of Moral Theology, John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family, Washington, USA

L'Osservatore Romano, English edition, 1 September 1999, pp. 6-7.

Printed with permission from Priests for Life.

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