WASHINGTON (ABP) — President Bush signed into law Nov. 5 the first federal restriction on abortion in 30 years, but barely an hour later a federal judge partially blocked its enforcement.
Bush signed a bill banning a kind of abortion procedure labeled by abortion opponents as “partial-birth abortion.” In the procedure, a fetus is partially delivered from the mother's uterus, then its skull is pierced and its brain matter is removed.
Abortion-rights supporters say the bill is both unnecessary and unconstitutional. On Oct. 31, pro-choice groups filed three lawsuits in federal courts across the country to halt the bill's implementation.
Shortly after the ceremony, U.S. District Judge Richard Kopf in Lincoln, Neb., issued an injunction to prevent the ban from being enforced on four abortion providers who sued in his court. Kopf, an appointee of former President Ronald Reagan, cited a 2000 Supreme Court ruling that struck down a Nebraska abortion law that was substantially similar to the law signed by Bush.
In that decision, a narrow majority of the Supreme Court justices ruled that the bill's language was unconstitutionally vague. They also faulted it for failing to include an exception to the ban in cases where the mother's health would be endangered if the “partial-birth” procedure were not used.
The current bill's supporters say it addresses both of those concerns by tightening the legal language in the bill and including a set of congressional “findings” that the procedure is never medically necessary to preserve a woman's health.
The findings are based on testimony by some obstetricians and other medical experts. But most mainstream medical groups dispute those claims and say the procedure may be a physician's only option in rare cases.
The White House marked the importance of the occasion by departing from usual bill-signing ceremony. In a nod to his view of the ban's importance, Bush added his signature in the auditorium of a federal office building, before a crowd of about 400 cheering abortion-rights opponents. During his speech prior to the signing, he was regularly interrupted by standing ovations and loud shouts of “Amen!” and “Thank you, Mr. President!”
On hand for the ceremony were many of the congressional supporters of the legislation — including its chief Senate and House sponsors, Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) and Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio). The crowd also included a virtual “Who's Who” of the Religious Right — including Southern Baptist leaders Jerry Falwell, Richard Land and Jack Graham.
“For years, a terrible form of violence has been directed against children who are inches from birth, while the law looked the other way,” Bush said before signing the bill. “Today, at last, the American people and our government have confronted the violence and come to the defense of the innocent child.”
Bush also alluded to the legal challenges to the law, which will almost certainly result in another Supreme Court case. “[T]he executive branch will vigorously defend this law against any who would try to overturn it in the courts,” he said, to a loud standing ovation from the crowd.
A handful of abortion-rights supporters protested as Bush's motorcade made its way from the White House to the nearby Ronald Reagan Building for the ceremony. “The so-called Partial-Birth Abortion Ban is a dangerous piece of legislation that ultimately seeks to outlaw even the safest abortion procedures,” said Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization for Women, in a release.
Although many of the bill's congressional supporters said the bill was not meant as a vehicle for ultimately overturning other abortion rights, many activists on both sides of the issue agreed it may be just that.
“The Partial-Birth Abortion Ban is the first significant restriction of the almost unlimited assault on life in the womb since the [Supreme Court's] infamous Roe vs. Wade decision in 1973,” Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, said in a press release.
Likewise, NOW's Gandy said the bill's passage and signing “confirms that [Bush's] administration and Congress have both the power and the will to overturn Roe vs. Wade, one step at a time. This is the first ban on an abortion procedure since abortion became legal in 1973, but it will not be the last if George W. Bush remains in office.”