Congress will reconvene tomorrow at noon after a long recess, with anti-abortion legislation and confirmation of President Bush’s judicial nominees on its agenda. While Congress will focus on such issues as tax cuts and the potential war with Iraq, the Senate, under the new leadership of Sen. Bill Frist (R-TN), is likely to vote on a ban on the so-called “partial-birth” abortion. The bill, HR 4965, has already passed the House, but had been kept off the floor by the Democratic leadership in the Senate last year. Frist, a retired heart surgeon, has a long history of support for banning “partial-birth” abortion and has a perfect rating on major votes by the National Right to Life Committee, according to the New York Times.
The “partial-birth” abortion ban has been widely criticized for broad language that does not offer exceptions for the life or health of the mother. The phrase “partial-birth” abortion is an inaccurate and inflammatory term invented by the right wing. “Partial birth” abortion does not refer to any particular medical procedure and the term is not recognized in the medical community, according to the College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Abortion procedure bans such as these aim to outlaw or significantly chip away at a woman’s right to choose a safe and legal medical procedure. The House bill does not include exceptions for the health of the mother, despite the fact that the US Supreme Court overturned a similar Nebraska ban in Stenburg v. Carhart, citing the lack of a health exception.
The Senate will also likely consider the “Unborn Victims of Violence Act,” which makes knowingly or unknowingly harming or killing a zygote, embryo or fetus while attacking a pregnant woman, during the commission of a federal crime, a separate and punishable crime. The “Child Custody Protection Act,” which makes it a federal crime for any person other than a parent to transport a minor across state lines to have an abortion, is another issue the Senate will most likely face this year, according to Salon. In addition, the Senate will face the “Abortion Non-Discrimination Act,” allowing hospitals to opt out of complying with existing abortion-related laws. The Feminist Majority, the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, and Planned Parenthood as well as other abortion rights groups oppose the conscience clause bill because it could threaten women’s health by allowing facilities to refuse to provide abortion services even to protect the life or health of a woman. These bills have all already passed in the House. Ken Connor, president of the right-wing Family Research Council, told the Times that he believes that Frist, as a doctor, will be especially effective for the anti-abortion movement—“When he speaks on these issues, he does so with great authority, great expertise, and now with great clout,” Connor said.
Media Resources: New York Times 1/2/03; Salon 1/3/03; Los Angeles Times 1/5/03; Feminist Daily News Wire