June 3, 2003
Dear Member of Congress:
You will soon consider H.R. 760, the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003. I write to urge you to support this bill and to oppose the Hoyer-Greenwood bill 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.
H.R. 760 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 Hoyer-Greenwood proposal (H.R. 809) which may be offered as a substitute would allow the brutal partial-birth abortion procedure and other late-term abortions to continue. This proposal should be rejected for at least three reasons. First, although the bill(s first section purports to ban post-viability abortions, the very next section of the bill contains an exception that swallows the ban. That section allows an abortionist to perform a post-viability abortion if, in his or her subjective medical judgment, the abortion is necessary "to preserve the life of the woman or to avert serious adverse health consequences to the woman." This does not allow for any objective standard of review. Second, Congressmen Hoyer and Greenwood have admitted that this exception would allow post-viability abortions for "mental health" reasons (March 16, 2000 "Dear Colleague" letter). Third, even if continuation of a pregnancy did pose a risk to a woman(s life or physical health, her pregnancy can be terminated instead to produce the live birth of a child who would survive. 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 H.R. 760, oppose the Hoyer-Greenwood 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