It appears that President Bush will soon have an opportunity to sign a bill that bans partial-birth abortions. The House approved the bill a few days ago, and once the Senate acts the bill will be on its way to the White House, perhaps this week. The president says he will sign it.
For eight years, the Republican-led House has worked to get this legislation passed and signed into law. On two occasions during Bill Clinton's administration, Congress adopted bills that banned the procedure. Clinton vetoed both of those bills.
Experts disagree on the medical necessity for the procedure. In a partial-birth abortion, usually in the second or third trimester of a pregnancy, a fetus is partially delivered and killed when a doctor punctures the skull.
The bill making its way to President Bush includes a "findings" section that says medical evidence presented during congressional hearings showed that partial-birth abortions pose serious risks to a woman's health, are never medically needed and are outside the standards of medical care.
Supporters of a woman's right to choose a partial-birth abortion say this latest bill will not stand up to legal scrutiny. They say the bill is unconstitutional because the bill's definition of the procedure is too broad and includes no exceptions to protect a mother's health. Supporters also worry that the bill is so vague that it could be interpreted to ban any mid- or late-term abortion.
In the recent House vote on the bill, four Republicans opposed it, but 63 Democrats joined in support of it.
The arguments for and against the legal endorsement of abortions has not changed in the 30 years since the Roe v. Wade decision. Supporters say the foundation for allowing abortions rests on a woman's right to make choices after she becomes pregnant. Opponents say that a fetus is a human life entitled to the same rights and protection as any other human being -- including the right to live even if a mother chooses to end a pregnancy.
Generally, both sides have agreed that abortions for medical reasons and to save the life of the mother are usually acceptable. But abortions for convenience and for family-planning purposes are not, say opponents.
Since the Roe v. Wade decision, other laws that affect human life have changed as well. Oregon now has a law allowing doctors to participate in suicides by terminally ill patients. Other debates about the sustaining of human life or ending it by artificial means have raised serious issues.
The arguments about whether individuals, institutions or government have the right to end the life of another person by abortion will continue. This bill, however, preserves the dignity of human life.