By Brian Love and Kerana Todorov
WASHINGTON – Three of Maryland’s four GOP congressmen Thursday helped the House pass a bill that would ban partial- birth abortions.
“I was pleased,” said Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, a Frederick Republican. “Our hope is that the Senate will also have a supermajority.”
The House vote, 295-136, ensured that a presidential veto could be overridden in that chamber.
Rep. Constance Morella, a Bethesda Republican, was one of only eight Republicans in the House voting against the measure. She joined all four of Maryland’s Democratic congressmen in opposing it.
Morella “believes very strongly that Congress should not intervene in medical decisions,” said Mary Anne Leary, her press secretary.
Furthermore, “the bill did not make any exception for risks to a woman’s health,” she said. Its only exception was to save the life of the mother.
Proponents of the bill argued that the procedure is “horrific” and ought to be banned.
“If Congress were voting about a method of execution – stabbing someone in the back of the head and sucking out their brains – I am sure it wouldn’t get a single vote in Congress,” Bartlett said.
“If this would be wrong for convicted murderers, how can it be right for innocent babies?”
The procedure prohibited by the bill is called a partial- birth abortion because the physician actually delivers the fetus partway.
The feet and most of the body are drawn out of the birth canal; the physician then uses a surgical instrument such as a pair of scissors to open a hole in the skull, which kills the fetus. The brain is removed with suction, allowing the aborted fetus to be drawn more easily through the cervix.
The abortions are typically performed after 20 weeks of pregnancy and up to seven months or later, anti-abortion activists say.
Opponents of the measure said it is an infringement on a woman’s right to choose.
“I believe the decision has to be between a woman, her doctor and God,” said Rep. Al Wynn, a Largo Democrat.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, a Baltimore Democrat, concurred.
“I don’t think [Congress] should be about the business of telling women what to do,” he said. “I have a problem with men telling women what to do with their bodies.”
The bill was a replica of one that passed both houses of Congress last year and was vetoed by President Clinton. The House overrode that veto, but the Senate could not muster the votes.
If the measure is enacted, physicians found guilty of performing partial-birth abortions could be fined and imprisoned up to two years.
Rep. Steny Hoyer, a Mechanicsville Democrat, tried to offer an amendment that would have extended the ban to all late-term abortions, but added an exemption to preserve the mother’s health. His proposal was denied by the House Rules Committee.
“All procedures of late-term abortion ought to be prohibited,” except in cases where the mother’s life or health are in danger, Hoyer said. An amendment offered on the House floor by Massachusetts Rep. Barney Frank, a Democrat, was voted down. It would have offered an exemption to preserve the physical health of the mother. -30-