President Clinton on Friday cast his second veto of legislation that would ban a controversial abortion procedure, setting the stage for a pitched override fight next year.
The bill, nearly identical to legislation he vetoed last year, would ban a procedure used in the second and third trimesters of pregnancy. Characterized by critics as "partial-birth" abortion, it is described by some medical professionals as "intact dilation and extraction."
The measure describes the procedure as "deliver[ing] into the vagina a living fetus, or a substantial portion thereof" and killing it. Under the bill, a doctor who performs the procedure could be jailed for as much as two years, except in cases where the pregnant woman's life is in imminent danger.
In vetoing the bill, Clinton said he feared an outright ban could hurt women, who, for medical reasons, need the procedure. Moreover, he said, the measure would violate the constitutional right to abortion established by the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision.
"Unfortunately [the bill] does not contain an exception to the measure's ban that will adequately protect the lives and health of the small group of women in tragic circumstances who need an abortion performed at a late stage of pregnancy to avert death or serious injury," Clinton said in his veto statement.
It is unclear whether the Senate will uphold Clinton's veto of this year's measure. When the bill passed the Senate earlier this year it fell just three votes short of the 67-vote margin needed to override.
Antiabortion advocates, who back the measure, said they plan to wait until next year to attempt to override Clinton's veto, because they believe that support for their position will increase in an election year. All House members and a third of the Senate will be up for reelection in 1998.
Intense lobbying already is underway to win the critical Senate votes. The issue proved a powerful one in the last congressional election, with major grass-roots efforts by the Catholic Church and national antiabortion groups.
"We have the votes to override his veto in the House, and we will work tirelessly to get the last few votes needed in the Senate," said Rep. Charles T. Canady (R-Fla.), the bill's chief sponsor in the House.
Clinton vetoed a similar bill last year. The House overrode that veto but the Senate upheld it by a nine-vote margin.
Even if Congress succeeds in overriding Clinton's veto, it is unclear how many abortions the measure ultimately would affect. Doctors who perform abortions said the bill's language could be construed as describing more than one abortion method, including some used as early as the second trimester of pregnancy. That is long before a fetus is viable, or able to live outside its mother's womb.