Prolife groups agree that the Partial-birth abortion Ban Act of 2003, which President Bush has promised to sign into law, may not save a single life. While it bans one form of abortion, doctors who want to get around the ban will merely begin to use another late-term procedure. Additionally, a long legal battle awaits, which may prohibit enforcement of the ban for years to come. But prolifers still believe it is a big step forward.
"I think it's a major victory for prolife Americans," said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council. "This is the first time in 30 years that we've seen reflected in public policy the cultural shift that has been taking place, and that is back toward respecting life." Perkins added, "I think it is significant that on the same day the Senate voted to outlaw this grisly procedure, the [Florida] legislature under the leadership of Governor [Jeb] Bush took action to save Terri Schiavo's life. So you see two elected bodies stepping in to protect innocent life, both on the front end and on what some consider the back end of life." Schiavo's feeding tube had been removed under a court order to allow her to die. Her parents have been fighting to keep her alive.
"Is [the ban] significant in its own right?" said Richard Cizik, National Association of Evangelicals president of governmental affairs. "Of course, for the simple reason that evangelicals have learned over the years that we have to win this incrementally."
"We have come with our toes to the line of crossing over into barbarism," said Perkins, "and we've said we're not going to go there."
But not all prolife groups are so upbeat. "As we're celebrating this perceived victory, we need to remember that a ban on partial-birth abortion does not save the life of one single baby," said Mark Crutcher, founder and president of Life Dynamics. "Every baby that would have been killed with partial-birth abortion will be killed with another procedure." Life Dynamics has opposed working for a ban on partial-birth abortion, saying that all forms of abortion are equally barbaric. Crutcher said the partial-birth abortion issue is a cover for pro-abortion politicians, who tell voters they oppose partial-birth abortion in order to sound moderate while knowing a ban on the procedure will not hurt the abortion industry.
But the ban "is only the start of what will inevitably be a long legal battle," Cizik said. Wendy Wright, senior policy director at Concerned Women for America, estimates the legal battle could last up to two years, though the bill addresses the problems that the Supreme Court found when it overturned a similar law in Nebraska. FRC's Perkins said it is anyone's guess whether the law will stand up in court.
This is the third time a ban on partial-birth abortion has passed Congress. President Bill Clinton vetoed two of them, and a third stalled after the Supreme Court decided a similar ban in Nebraska was unconstitutional. Opponents of the ban have promised to fight the bill in court. CWA's Wright said the outcome may depend on who judges the case, but it is likely to end up in the Supreme Court.
"In 2000, five Supreme Court justices said that Roe v. Wade guaranteed the right of abortionists to perform partial-birth abortions whenever they see fit," National Right to Life Committee Legislative Director Douglas Johnson said in a statement." But Congress is now inviting the Supreme Court to reexamine that extreme and inhumane decision."
Crutcher said, "The Supreme Court has ruled that unless you have an exception for health in it, it's unconstitutional. But the minute you put an exception in it, that wipes out the restriction on abortion because the exception includes physical, psychological, familial, the woman's age—anything relevant to the well-being of the patient is a health exception according to the Supreme Court. Well, that includes everything."
For Perkins the issue is personal. "I'm finishing up my second term in the Louisiana legislature. I was part of passing our partial-birth abortion ban in Louisiana that was overturned by a federal judge, so I've had a number of my own laws that I've passed that have been overturned by federal judges." Abortion groups have promised to file suit as soon as the President signs the bill.
The Congressional debate over the ban included graphic pictures and descriptions of partial-birth abortion. "It has already helped to save some babies lives, because as this issue has been debated over the last eight years, people have come face to face with what happens in an abortion," Wright said. "It's made people realize abortion is not just 'a woman's right to chose'; it is an actual procedure that kills an unborn child."
The debate has changed people's minds, Wright said. "We've seen the majority of people, including the majority of women, are now prolife." In that way, she added, the ban has already saved lives.
"From a strategic point of view," said Cizik, "it is important because success breeds success. We learned that with the passage of the International Religious Freedom Act in the 106th Congress, the Freedom from Trafficking Act in the 107th Congress; and in the 108th, we passed the Prison Rape Elimination Act. This is all part of a broad-based human rights quest that resembles the efforts of our evangelical forbear William Wilberforce, who led the fight against slavery. Its significance exceeds the actual saving of human life. It is part of a bigger picture that needs concrete victories, which breeds success on other issues. You can't discount it for what the opponents might say. It's a step."
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The bill's full text is available here.
Weblog's coverage of the bill includes:
House Votes to Ban Partial-Birth Abortion (June 05, 2003)
Senate Likely to Pass Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Thursday (March 11, 2003)
Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Reruns (March 13, 2003)
Senate Bans Partial-Birth Abortion (March 13, 2003)
Weblog: Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Introduced in U.S. House (Feb. 14, 2003)
House Passes Partial-Birth Abortion Ban. Again. (July 26, 2002)
Other CT coverage includes:
Prolife Groups Ready to Defend Partial-Birth Abortion Ban | Court challenge to new law expected. (July 14, 2003)
Prolife Advocates Herald Partial-Birth Abortion Ban | President Bush promises to sign May 13 Senate bill. (April 23, 2003)
The New Partial-Birth Abortion Bill and Old Myths | Unconstitutional? Rare? Dangerous? Don't believe the disinformation campaign. (Feb. 24, 2003)