The bill's next destination is the House floor. If passed by the House, the legislation would ban all partial-birth abortions, allowing it only if the mother's life was endangered.
"(The bill) will ban the dangerous and inhumane procedure during in which a physician delivers an unborn child's body until only the head remains inside the womb, punctures the back of the child's skull with a sharp instrument, and sucks the child's brains out before completing delivery of the newly dead infant," said Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Ohio, who introduced the bill in February.
He asserted that the procedure is "never medically necessary to preserve the health of a woman, poses serious risks to a woman's health, and lies outside the standard of medical care."
To provide further evidence in support of the bill, Chabot cited medical experts as saying that the procedure could result in injury to women who undergo a partial-birth abortion.
Not all agreed that the procedure was a poor choice for women.
"D & X procedures may be the safest for some women under particular circumstances," said Rep. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisc., in reference to dilation and extraction -- one technique that could be considered a partial-birth abortion procedure.
Democratic committee members attempted to tack an amendment to the bill to include a health exemption to the abortion limits.
"The bill without the amendment is unconstitutional," said Rep. Robert Scott, D-Va. Scott and other committee Democrats cited the Supreme Court case, Stenberg vs. Carhart, in which the high court overturned a Nebraska law prohibiting partial-birth abortion. It ruled that a ban put an "undue burden" on women seeking abortions because no health exception was included.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler said: "Everybody knowledgeable and not quoting themselves knows the Supreme Court will throw (the bill) out." The New York Democrat added that the debate was "political nonsense."
However, a spokesman for Chabot said: "The fear is that (a health exception) includes mental health, which would render the bill meaningless."
With a strong Republican showing at the meeting, the controversial H.R. 760 made it unscathed through the Judiciary Committee. The health exception amendment, as well as five others, were voted down almost 2-to-1 along party lines.
"The whole thing is a smokescreen for political issues," said Dr. David Grimes, former chief of abortion surveillance at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta. "(The bill) doesn't have to do with the safety of women or the fetus. If you really want to boil this down, this is a philosophical issue."
It is about esthetics, Grimes explained. But doctors must sometimes perform repugnant procedures to improve someone's health and to save lives, he said.
The lawmakers in support of the bill are creating an issue where none exists, Grimes continued. The term "partial-birth abortion" is not recognized in the medical community, he said.
Grimes, now an obstetrician in Chapel Hill, N.C., commented that the division he headed at the CDC no longer exists because "abortions had become significantly safer over the years."
Grimes added that the decision to use what some lawmakers categorize as partial-birth abortion should be left to the patient and the doctor, not lawmakers.
The Senate passed its version of the bill, S. 3, on March 13.
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