Thursday, June 5, 2003

Chabot's anti-abortion bill near law

By Carl Weiser
Enquirer Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON - The House voted Wednesday to ban a procedure that opponents call "partial birth" abortion, moving the restriction a crucial step closer to President Bush's signature. With the 282-139 vote, Congress was on the verge of ending a practice that Cincinnati Rep. Steve Chabot said was "truly a national tragedy."

Eight years ago this month, a newly elected congressman from Cincinnati, Chabot joined fellow anti-abortion colleagues to announce a bill banning what was then a little-known procedure they called "partial-birth" abortion.

Now Chabot is chairman of the House Constitution Subcommittee and chief sponsor of the bill. And after nine House votes, two presidential vetoes and one Supreme Court case, it is finally poised to become law.

The Senate passed it in March. Some minor differences still have to be worked out in Congress, but both sides expect President Bush to sign the bill into law.

"It's been a long battle. There's a sense of satisfaction that finally we're going to stop this gruesome, horrific procedure," the Westwood Republican said Wednesday.

The procedure is performed on the fetus after it is partially outside the mother's body. Abortion rights advocates say it's sometimes medically necessary to protect the health or fertility of a woman with a problem pregnancy.

"We just felt that this was just beyond the pale. This was a procedure that just shouldn't be permitted in a civilized country," Chabot said.

"It will be very gratifying to see (Chabot) next to the president in the Oval Office the day this bill is signed," said Douglas Johnson, the top lobbyist for the National Right to Life Committee. "Mr. Chabot has been very skillful and persistent in shepherding this legislation over the innumerable obstacles that have been thrown in its path."

Abortion rights groups say Chabot's bill is flawed medically and legally because it contains no exception to allow the procedure to protect the health of the mother. But they agree with abortion opponents on one thing: Steve Chabot's determination to outlaw the procedure.

"I think he's very persistent," said Sue Momeyer, CEO of Planned Parenthood Cincinnati Region.

President Clinton vetoed the bill twice when Republicans controlled Congress. Twice the House mustered the votes to override the vetoes, but the Senate didn't.

Last year, the House passed the ban but the Democratic-controlled Senate never brought it up.

"There always seemed to be one thing that was stopping its passage," Chabot said.

Chabot's triumph may be short-lived. Abortion rights groups say they will challenge the law in court as soon as it is passed.

The procedure was used in an estimated 2,200 of the 1.3 million abortions performed in the United States in 2000, according to the Alan Guttmacher Institute, a research group that backs abortion rights. Proponents of the ban say the figures are higher.

It was a Tristate doctor, Martin Haskell, who first described the procedure he called "dilation and extraction" at a Dallas convention of abortion providers in 1992. Haskell continues to practice at clinics in Cincinnati and Dayton and, opponents say, continues to perform those abortions. He did not return calls for comment.

Ohio and Kentucky passed laws outlawing the procedure, but a 2000 Supreme Court decision rendered them unenforceable.

"Steve Chabot is the guy who took the initiative to correct the defects, as the Supreme Court saw it, in the law," said Patrick Conroy, president of Right to Life of Greater Cincinnati.

Chabot said his bill has a more exact definition of the procedure to satisfy the Supreme Court. He said he did not include a health exception because it could be abused.

The original chief sponsor of the bill was Rep. Charles Canady, R-Fla. But when Canady retired in 2001, Chabot became the chief sponsor, partly because he took over as chairman of the House Constitution Subcommittee.

Chabot is one of the House's core of anti-abortion crusaders. A Catholic and graduate of the all-male Catholic La Salle High School, Chabot said he has opposed abortion all his life.

"Cincinnati is a pretty pro-life city, no question about that," said Dr. John Willke, the Finneytown resident who founded Right to Life movement 30 years ago with his wife, Barbara.

The city council voted 5-4 in March to support Chabot's ban. All 12 Congress members representing the Tristate supported the ban.

Kellie Copeland, executive director of Naral Pro-Choice Ohio, said the legislation won't reduce abortions, a goal she said her organization shares with anti-abortion groups. That's better done by promoting sex education and contraceptive use, she said.

Planned Parenthood's Momeyer said Chabot was interjecting the federal government into private decisions best left to doctors and women.

Contributing: The Associated Press, Kathy Kiely, USA Today. E-mail

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