March 10, 2003
You will soon consider S. 3, the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003. I write to urge you to support this bill and to oppose any weakening amendments, including the Durbin amendment which may be offered as a substitute.
The Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003 forbids a particularly cruel procedure that ends the lives of children who are inches away from birth. The legislation passed Congress twice but was vetoed by President Clinton on both occasions. President Bush has said he will sign a bill to ban partial-birth abortion, so the time to enact this ban is now.
More than half the states have enacted laws to ban partial-birth abortion, and polls consistently show that the overwhelming majority of Americans (70 percent and more) support such a ban. Yet in 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court, in Stenberg v. Carhart, struck down Nebraska's ban on the procedure. In doing so, the Court effectively called into question the constitutionality of other state bans and the twice-passed federal ban.
S. 3 responds to this question of constitutionality. First, the bill narrowly defines "partial birth abortion" as "an abortion in which (A) the person performing the abortion deliberately and intentionally vaginally delivers a living fetus until, in the case of a head-first presentation, the entire fetal head is outside the body of the mother, or, in the case of breech presentation, any part of the fetal trunk past the navel is outside the body of the mother for the purpose of performing an overt act that the person knows will kill the partially delivered living fetus; and (B) performs the overt act, other than completion of delivery, that kills the partially delivered living fetus." This is a very precise and narrowly-worded definition which responds to the Court's concern about vagueness. Second, the bill addresses the Court's interest in protecting women's health. The bill presents Congress's findings, based on years of testimony, that partial-birth abortion is not necessary to preserve women's health, and in fact may pose serious health risks.
A substitute proposal, which may be offered by Senator Durbin, allows the brutal partial-birth abortion procedure and other late-term abortions to continue, though it purports to do otherwise. The Durbin proposal merely requires that the abortionist, before aborting a viable unborn child, "certify" that from his point of view "continuation of the pregnancy would threaten the mother's life or risk grievous injury to her physical health." Warren Hern, an abortionist who specializes in late-term abortions and authored a textbook on them, has admitted that this leaves the practitioner free to certify any post-viability abortion. "I will certify that any pregnancy is a threat to a woman's life and could cause grievous injury to her physical health," he said (Ruth Padawer, "Clinton May Back Abortion Measure," The Record, May 14, 1997). Even this certification can be waived if the abortionist decides there is a "medical emergency," a phrase left completely undefined and that could be construed to include psychological "emergencies." But even if continuation of the pregnancy did pose a risk to a woman's physical health, the pregnancy can be terminated instead to produce the live birth of the child. That is what "viable" means.
Most medical experts agree that there is never a medical need to kill an unborn child to protect the woman's life or health. As Dr. Harlan Giles, a "high-risk" obstetrician who occasionally performs abortions, has testified: "I do not think there are any maternal conditions that I'm aware of that mandate ending the pregnancy that, also, require that the fetus be dead or that fetal life be terminated. In my experience for twenty years, one can deliver these fetuses either vaginally or by Cesarean section for that matter." Women's Med. Prof'l Corp. v. Voinovich, 911 F. Supp. 1051 (S.D. Ohio 1995), Hearing Transcript, Nov. 13, 1995 at 331.
Please vote for S. 3, oppose the Durbin substitute, and reject the indefensible and inhumane partial-birth abortion procedure once and for all.
Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua
Archbishop of Philadelphia
Chairman, Committee for Pro-Life Activities
U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops