Partial Birth Abortion Ban
Political Science 1
Partial Birth Abortion Ban
In the United States a fierce battle has been fought for years over the issue of abortion. Since the 1973 decision of Roe v. Wade which declared it unconstitutional to make laws against abortions, Conservatives have been fighting to overturn the decision, while Liberals have been fighting to retain the right to choose. In the past several years, a new issue has come up in drawing the line of abortion laws: partial birth abortions. Only a few weeks ago, President Bush signed a bill prohibiting partial birth abortions. This gives a perfect example of how our legislative process works and it will be interesting to see in the upcoming months how the law is enacted and what kind of opposition it will face, judicial or otherwise.
The issue of partial birth abortions really began to come into the public sphere in 1993, when the National Right to Live Committee (a strong anti-abortion public interest group) got hold of information from Dr. Martin Haskell, an Ohio abortionist) who described in great detail how to go about performing the procedure (, 11/10/03.). The procedure is an abortion “…in which a physician deliberately and intentionally… delivers a living unborn child’s body until either the entire baby’s head is outside the body of the mother, or any part of the baby’s trunk past the navel is outside the body of the mother and only the head remains inside the womb… punctures the back of the child’s skull and removes the baby’s brains” (, 9/30/03). The efforts to ban partial birth abortions began to really go into action in 1995 after a Republican takeover of Congress (, 7/8/03). After several attempts passed by Congress but vetoed by the President Clinton, Congress has finally been successful in enacting a ban on partial birth abortions. The ban says that this act is a “gruesome and inhumane procedure that is never medically necessary and should be prohibited” (, 9/30/03) and any doctor that performs this procedure will be fined and/or imprisoned for up to two years (, 9/30/03).
The Partial Abortion Ban was presented to Congress on February 13, 2003 and was passed in the Senate on October 21, 2003 by a vote of 64-33, and in the House on October 2, 2003 by a vote of 281-142 and was finally signed by President Bush on November 5, 2003 (, 11/17/03). Behind the bill there are both groups of support and opposition. Supporting the bill are many conservative anti-abortion groups such as National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) and American Life League (, 11/10/03) who hope to pave the way to more anti-abortion laws. The opposition consists of numerous pro-choice groups like Planned Parenthood, National Abortion Federation, and Naral Pro-Choice America (, 10/21/03) who hope to continue to protect the right for women to choose.
The major controversy surrounding the Ban lies not in the facts of the Ban itself, but in whether or not the Ban is constitutional. Republicans and Democrats in both houses of Congress voted strongly for the Ban. The opposition felt that the Ban could be an infringement on the constitutional right to privacy in the fourteenth amendment used in Roe v. Wade and because it failed to include an exception for cases to preserve the mother’s health (, 9/30/03). Supporters of the Ban, however, said that “A child that is completely born is a full, legal person entitled to constitutional protections afforded to a ‘person’ under the United States Constitution” (, 9/30/03).
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For as long as abortion has been widely used practice, Conservatives have been opposed to it and traditionally, the Republican Party has been a supporter of this ideology. The case of the Partial Birth Abortion Ban is no exception. The bill was primarily written and sponsored by Congressman Steve Chabot from Ohio and was sponsored by Senator Rick Santorum from Pennsylvania; both of whom are Republicans. (, 11/17/03).
The Republican Party’s sponsorship and strong support for the ban will result in their receiving credit for it which in some cases will work to their benefit. This will result in strong support for conservative supporters who are Pro-Life. President Bush, a strong supporter of anti-abortion legislation, has said “’Partial-birth abortion is an abhorrent procedure that offends human dignity, and I commend the Senate for passing legislation to ban it… Today’s action is an important step toward building a culture of life in America’” (, 3/13/03). This is an important action for President Bush in gaining the support of very right-wing conservatives as well as for members of Congress who supported the bill and are hoping for reelection in states that are very conservative.
On the other hand, the Republican support of anti-abortion legislation will work against them for voters who do not support the Partial Birth Abortion Ban, namely, liberal Democrats. Some have accused the Republican sponsors of the bill of using the bill as a first step to going back on the monumental decision of Roe v. Wade. “The criminalization of… ‘partial birth abortion’ is just the tip of the iceberg for the Republicans, as right-wing, anti-choice activists plan to push a full agenda of legislation designed to restrict a woman’s right to choose” (, 11/12/03). This view of the Ban claims many Democrat opinions and could lead to the loss of votes for supporters of the Ban.
The sponsors and supporters of the Partial Birth Abortion Ban have, and will continue to gain much attention from voters of all parts of the spectrum. Although many liberal Democrats do not favor the bill because of its infringement on women’s rights, the public as a whole is in support of the Ban. In a recent Gallup poll, 70% favored the Ban and 25% opposed (, 7/8/03). Although the majority of voters are in favor of the ban, the idea of an anti-abortion will split voters on those who are pro-choice and those who are pro-life. This factor will be what makes up the minds of voters in the middle. Those who are pro-life will be likely to vote for the sponsors of the Ban because it is pushing for more anti-abortion legislation. Those who are pro-choice will be likely to not vote for the sponsors of the Ban because they do not want leaders in office who will be likely to continue to pass more anti-abortion legislation.
In addition to voters in the middle, there are several groups that will play a key role by their opinions on the Partial Birth Abortion Ban; The most important group being women voters. For women, the issue of abortion has always been one of great importance. The right to choose has been a struggle that many women have fought strongly. The Partial Birth Abortion Ban is the first law putting restrictions on abortion to be passed since Roe v. Wade in 1973 (, 3/13/03). This could lead women to have less support for the sponsors of the Ban for fear of further restrictions and possible complete prohibition of abortion completely.
There are other groups of voters who have strong opinions for or against the Partial Birth Abortion Ban that do not have as strong effect on the reelection of the Ban sponsors. Pro Choice groups such as Planned Parenthood have typically been more liberal voters due to the issue of abortion. Because they stand on that end of the ideological spectrum, they are more likely to vote for a more liberal candidate while the sponsors of the Ban are more aligned with the conservative end of the spectrum. Therefore, passing the Ban will generally have no real effect on those voters because they would have voted for a more liberal candidate anyway. Conversely, Pro-Life groups such as the National Right to Life Committee are very conservative in their views and therefore would be more likely to vote for the sponsors of the Ban because of their conservative ideology. In this case, however, the sponsors of the bill would have an advantage to another conservative candidate running for the same position because of their strong support for anti-abortion laws. In these cases, candidates are more likely to accept the fact that they would not be able to change to votes of voters on radical ends of the spectrum, and so they would more likely focus on the voters in the middle (lecture, October, 23, 2003).
While the factors of ideology, electoral advantage, and legislative influence are all important factors in the reason for a sponsor to propose a policy, in the case of the Partial Birth Abortion Ban, ideology seems the most important. The Ban falls into the traditionally conservative, Republican area of Pro-Life, and therefore it seems to be a good place for a Republican to sponsor a bill. The Ban acts as a perfect example of the values of conservatism: putting order before freedom before equality. The Ban brings the order of prohibiting partial birth abortions before giving the mother the freedom to choose whether or not she wants to have the procedure. Senator Santorum (the bill’s sponsor in the Senate) gives a perfect example of the conservative value of order over freedom in the case of abortion “…compare[ing] the Roe decision with the nation’s one-time support for slavery, saying both placed ‘the liberty rights of some over the life rights of others’” (, 9/8/03).
Although the factor of ideology is most important in the sponsorship of the Partial Birth Abortion Ban, the factors of electorate advantage and legislative influence play a role as well. Any political figure is constantly looking to increase their voters support as well as their influence on other important matters in the legislative process. Sponsoring a bill gives the sponsor lots of attention: congressional attention, voter attention, and even presidential attention. This attention gets the sponsor’s message out loud and clear to all audiences. This attention can be both positive and negative for the sponsor- positive for those that agree with what the sponsor is proposing, negative for those that do not agree with what the sponsor is proposing. In the case of the Partial Birth Abortion Ban, those that agree with the ban, especially those that are pro choice, are affected positively in two ways. First of all, this gives them an advantage when they are up for reelection because their supporters will want to vote for them. The second way is that by passing the Ban, they have opened the door for other pieces of legislation against abortion as well as gaining power in Congress.
The Partial Birth Abortion Ban is not the first attempt to ban partial birth abortions. Congress has passed a partial birth abortion ban twice in the past several years but both times President Clinton vetoed the bill. In 2000 the Supreme Court upset efforts to pass the ban when it overturned a law from Nebraska that closely resembled the one going through Congress. It has been speculated that because the Partial Birth Abortion Ban has such similar language to the ban the Supreme Court invalidated in Nebraska, that it in the near future it may be challenged in court and possibly will be declared unconstitutional (, 9/18/03).
Because the President signed the Partial Birth Abortion Ban so recently and it is so close to an election, it will be interesting to see what kind of impact signing the ban will have on his campaign. President Bush has already made it very clear that he is against abortion and intends to continue to push for anti-abortion legislation (, 11/5/03). This will be a major issue in the election that will divide Republicans and Democrats. Because Bush has such a strong conservative view on this issue, he also brings into account the appointment of Supreme Court Justices. If Bush wins reelection, he will undoubtedly appoint Justices sympathetic to his views on abortion. Bush will have to work hard to appeal to voters in the middle who may not be pro-life. Although they may agree with the ban, the may see it as a gateway for more anti-abortion legislation. Therefore, the signing of this bill may be one of the key issues that will make voters vote for or against him.
Both Congressman Chabot and Senator Santorum hold prominent positions in Congress and were therefore able to influence other members of Congress to support the Partial Birth Abortion Ban. Congressman Chabot is the Chairman of the House Subcommittee on the Constitution and Vice-Chairman of the House Subcommittee on the Middle East (, 11/17/03). Senator Santorum is the 3rd Ranking Republican in the Senate. He is the Conference Chairman and is the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Social Security and Family Policy (, 11/5/03). The high ranking positions both these men hold in their respective offices of Congress allowed for them to both sponsor the bill for the Partial Birth Abortion Ban and be strongly supported. Because members of Congress hold respect for their positions, Congress is more willing to listen and support legislation that they put forth because they have done well in the past with their positions. The more legislation that is passed, the more respected a member of Congress becomes and the greater influence he or she has.
The Partial Birth Abortion Ban, as with most bills that go through Congress, has faced much opposition throughout its journey to be enacted into a law. As mentioned before, public interest groups that are against anti-abortion measures have been the front runners of opposition for this ban. A group that has been particularly active in the fight against this ban is Planned Parenthood of America. They believe that passing the ban will lead to infringements upon the rights of women’s choice and argue that the ban is unconstitutional. “The ban makes no exception for a woman’s health. It’s unconstitutional and we will pursue every legal option, including a federal lawsuit, to prevent it from taking effect…. Women - not politicians - should decide the best and safest medical treatment” (, 9/15/03). In addition to public interest groups, other members of Congress have showed opposition to the ban for similar reasons “’ The bill is unconstitutional,’ argued Senator Barbara Boxer, D- Calif., citing the lack of an exemption in cases where the mother develops a life-threatening condition as result of pregnancy” (, 3/13/03).
Although there was, and still is much opposition to the ban, no compromises were made to the ban during its time in Congress. Earlier this year, attempts were made to add exceptions to the ban in the case of risk to the mother’s health, as well as an attempt to have the bill rewritten in committee to address some of the constitutional issues brought up in the Supreme Court hearings of similar state laws but both attempts to make compromises on the ban were not successful (, 3/13/03). Many have speculated, however, that in the near future the ban will be brought to the Supreme Court to address such issues. “… [Senator] Boxer said the partial-birth abortion ban will become a law, but it will immediately be challenged in court and predicted it would be struck down as unconstitutional” (, 9/18/03).
The Partial Birth Abortion Ban stands as a clear example of pluralist model of policy making. The issue of partial birth abortions was brought up by public interest groups who gained the support of a legislator. A bill was written to solve the problem of partial birth abortions. There stood strong party divisions on whether or not the bill should be made into a law. There was not one interest at hand, but many. This protected against a majority taking control. The only somewhat majoritarian aspect of the policy making for this law was the fact that a majority was needed to approve the bill.
Before I wrote this paper, I really did not have any idea what a painstaking effort it was to pass a bill in Congress and get it to the President’s desk to have him sign it. I was under the impression that a Congressman simply had an idea about a policy they wanted to propose, talked about it in Congress, and if it won brought it to the President for him to sign. As I learned, this is not the case. After reading pages and pages of Congressional hearings on the bill, I was amazed by the extent of detail went into it. Not only that, but so many people went before Congress to testify for or against the bill. The legislators sponsoring the bill were fortunate that President Bush was in agreement with the ban because in the past, it had been vetoed two times by President Clinton. I can’t imagine going to all that work to get a bill passed and then having to start over from scratch because the President vetoed the bill.
Ideology played a major role in the passing of this policy. The ideology of the bill was strongly conservative, as was the ideology of the men who sponsored the bill. The ideology brought in the voice of many public interest groups, some who held the same ideology, and others who had completely different ideology. I didn’t realize how important ideology was until researching this bill. Conservatives were adamant that this bill had to pass because partial birth abortions were morally wrong (, 11/10/03). Liberals were on the opposite end of the spectrum saying that by passing the bill they would be infringing upon constitutional rights (, 10/21/03). I found it amazing how two groups of people could have such completely opposite views on the same policy.
I also found it interesting how much the three branches of government worked to pass the bill. Congress proposed and passed the bill, the President signed the bill, and the Supreme Court has the power to overturn the bill if they find it unconstitutional. Each branch of government has their chance to make some sort of impact on the bill at some point in the process which is good but also makes the process a lot slower. This bill was proposed in February of this year and was not signed by President Bush until November! That is almost a year of working to pass the bill!
All in all, I was very impressed by the amount of work that goes into making a bill into a law. Often times our government system is criticized for the lengthy process of policy making, but I believe it is for our benefit. The more each proposal is scrutinized, the more likely it is to be a success. Learning more about the policy making process made me realize that the framers had the right idea when crafting the constitution and we have had many successes because of it.