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Abortion | Partial-birth ban is rewritten and ready for action in July

Issue: "Bureaucratic burial," June 29, 2002

Leaders of the House of Representatives are poised to vote next month on a newly tailored bill to ban partial-birth abortion. Why now? Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee's subcommittee on the Constitution, explained to WORLD he needed time to craft the text so it would survive legal scrutiny.

Two other factors have kept the issue from resurfacing until now. First, TeamBush wanted to focus in the early months on passing tax cuts and an education package, and not crowd out those items with social controversies. Second, the Supreme Court in 2000 struck down Nebraska's partial-birth ban as too vague.

The Chabot bill explicitly and more narrowly defines the procedure targeted, so that it doesn't reach the more common "dilation and extraction" method, a specific concern Justice Sandra Day O'Connor expressed in the 2000 ruling. The bill also tries to address the Supreme Court majority's deference to the fact-finding powers of Congress, so it includes a section of findings based on an extensive record of hearings: that partial-birth abortion is never medically necessary; that it is not recognized by the mainstream medical community as a valid abortion procedure; and that it blurs the line between abortion and infanticide.

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This will be the fourth time the House votes on the issue, and it's never been close before. In 1996 and '97, it passed by 150 votes. Both bills passed the Senate by smaller margins and were vetoed by President Clinton. Now, the big obstacle is the Senate, where Majority Leader Tom Daschle has blocked GOP initiatives.

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