KWAME HOLMAN: The congressional debate over late term abortions was one of the most emotional and contentious in recent memory.
SEN. ROBERT SMITH, (R) New Hampshire: (November 7, 1995) Can you imagine, could you possibly imagine the pain of this child, without any anesthetic, of having scissors put in the back of its neck and having its brains sucked out? Can you imagine the pain? This is the United States of America. Why are we doing this to our children? Could somebody please tell me why we're doing this. Why are we doing this? Give me a reason. I can't wait till I hear the other side. For what? Why are we doing this?
SEN. BARBARA BOXER, (D) California: Women in their late term pregnancies do not desire, do not anticipate, do not want, do not even think about abortion. Women in the late term of their pregnancies are anticipating the joys of childbirth, the fulfillment of motherhood and family. Doctors know late term abortions are dangerous and difficult. They're emergency medical procedures done in the most tragic and painful circumstances, and yet, this bill would outlaw an emergency medical procedure.
KWAME HOLMAN: The bill banning so-called partial birth or late term abortions passed both the House and the Senate. But the Senate vote was well short of a veto-proof majority. And President Clinton did veto the bill. Yesterday, the President stood by as five women gave tearful testimonials of their late term abortions, necessary according to their doctors because of potential life threatening consequences. The President said he would have signed the bill, except for women in similar situations.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: I implored them, I said, if you want to pass something on this procedure, let's make an exception for life in serious, adverse health consequences, so that we don't put these women in a position and these families in a position where they lose all possibility of future child bearing, or where they, where the doctor can't say that they might die but they could clearly be substantially injured forever. And my pleas fell on deaf ears.
KWAME HOLMAN: President Clinton also explained his decision in a letter to Catholic Cardinal Joseph Berneden of Chicago saying, "This is a difficult and disturbing issue, one which I have studied and prayed about for many months." But Cardinal Berneden released a statement of his own saying, "This incomprehensible decision underscores once again the importance of Catholics and all people of goodwill becoming an informed and involved electorate who are active in the political process. Today, White House Press Sec. Michael McCurry said he didn't know if the President had thought about the political consequences of his decision but understands he'll have to live with them, good or bad.
MARGARET WARNER: Action on the issue now returns to Capitol Hill, where the Republican-controlled Congress may try to override the veto. The issue also promises to figure in this year's election campaign. Here to talk about what lies ahead on both fronts are two key players in the debate, Republican Chris Smith of New Jersey, co-chairman of the House Pro Life Caucus, and Democrat Nita Lowey of New York. Welcome both of you--Let's get your perspective, that the President veto this bill.
REP. NITA LOWEY, New York: (New York) First of all, let's be very clear about who is being extreme. I've heard Bob Dole's statement today calling the President extreme. The President said very clearly that he would have signed this bill if it had an exception, in addition to life, for serious health risks. Bob Dole wants to outlaw all kinds of abortion. Bob Dole, in fact, supports a constitutional amendment, as does Chris Smith, to outlaw abortion. This is a particular medical procedure that women and their families face in the most tragic circumstances. I've met with these women. I've met with their families. They want to have children, and then they are faced in the last months of pregnancy with a decision by the doctor that this fetus can't live, that the brain may be outside the fetus, that the spine may be non-existent, so they are faced with this decision, uh, to end this pregnancy. And the President knows, as I know, that this is less than 1 percent of the number of abortions, and--
MARGARET WARNER: And how many--
REP. NITA LOWEY: --it's a real tragedy.
MARGARET WARNER: And how many, just tell us how many a year do you think are being done of this procedure?
REP. NITA LOWEY: There are just several hundred a year that are being done. There are just three or four doctors that perform this procedure, and they are done in the most tragic circumstances. As a mother of three grown children, healthy children, I pray that no one in my family ever has to face that decision and, if they do, they want this Congress telling them what to do. They want to face this decision with their loved ones, with their physician, not with this Congress.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Congressman, given how relatively few of these are being done, as we've just heard, why was it so important to the Pro Life Caucus that this bill become law?
REP. CHRIS SMITH, (R) New Jersey: Well, first of all, the abortion industry admits to 500 or so per year. That's 500 children who are killed through a gruesome method, and we saw on the, on the pro--on the information leading up to this discussion the actual method involves the doctor delivering the child three quarters of the way and then the head, which is larger than the other parts of the body, is still inside the mother. He actually--
MARGARET WARNER: Excuse me, and at what stage in the pregnancy? Just explain.
REP. CHRIS SMITH: Anywhere from 20 weeks onward are these partial birth abortions performed, and then the doctor goes in with the Metzenbaum scissors, opens up a hole in the baby's back of the head, opens it up, and then puts in a suction catheter and the baby's brains are literally sucked out. Dr. Haskell, who--and this is one of the ways we found out about it at the National Abortion Federation's Conference in 1992--he talks about this in plain language about how the baby's brains are literally sucked out, and he has admitted on tape that 80 percent of the abortions that he does in this method are elected abortions. These are not life-saving abortions, and there is an exception in the language of the bill vetoed by the President that says very clearly that the life of the mother is one of those exceptions where this would be permitted, but, you know, the President also argues that he wants a health exception. Health was defined in the Doe Vs. Bolton, it was the companion--
MARGARET WARNER: Which is what?
REP. CHRIS SMITH: In 1973, Roe Vs. Wade, most people have heard about that, there was a companion decision handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court that explained that health means virtually everything, the well-being and the socioeconomic, the woman's age, any situation can be construed to be health. We know that if it's left to the abortionist to make the decision whether or not this is a health abortion, 100 percent of the time it'll be a health abortion. And we're also saying this is a method of child abuse. The child is 3/4 of the way delivered. Those tiny hands, the legs are kicking. Why not complete the delivery, rather than killing the baby? Dr. Haskell was asked about that. He said the object here isn't to manipulate the outcome--in other words--the live birth. It is to procure the death of the baby.
MARGARET WARNER: Okay. Let's turn to this exception for the health of the mother. Congresswoman--
REP. NITA LOWEY: Yes.
MARGARET WARNER: --really two questions. First of all, you heard the Congressman say that that's been so broadly construed, as in many other kinds of decisions, as to cover everything. Umm, address that point.
REP. NITA LOWEY: I'd be pleased to. I'd like to make two points. First of all, I went to the Republican leadership with my colleagues and asked for a health exemption and offered to work with Chris Smith or any of the other Republicans to craft an exception that would be suitable. These abortions take place in the most tragic circumstances. Either the brain is outside of the body, the fetus cannot live. I think it's a distortion and it's demeaning to women to think that women who have planned to have an--a baby or people like Claudia Adis, who has worked hard, who has been a part of the American dream, who--
MARGARET WARNER: I'm sorry. Who is she?
REP. NITA LOWEY: --was planning with her husband, Richard--these are people that met with the President--
MARGARET WARNER: The President yesterday.
REP. NITA LOWEY: --met with me in my office, and told me how they were choosing names for the baby, and then were faced with this decision. They want to make that decision with the doctor and choose the method, have the doctor select a method that is the safest. This doctor, as a result of the bill, would have to go to jail and prove his innocence. You know, I think it's also important that our viewers know that Chris Smith supported a bill that didn't even have a life exception. Bob Dole voted against abortion a hundred times. He wants to eliminate all abortion.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Let me turn back to this bill, if I could. Just very briefly, where does it go from here? Are you going to try to override the President's veto?
REP. CHRIS SMITH: There will be an attempt, I believe, in the House of Representatives to override the President. It's not likely in the Senate that the votes are there, but, again, my good friend and colleague from New York has misstated the facts. The bill that passed in the House had an affirmative defense for the life of the mother, and what happens--and one other thing--when I hear this Presidential spokesman suggesting that the President did not wear the political ramifications of this, this has been--President Clinton is the abortion President. Every aspect of his domestic and foreign policy from national health care to international population control has been to promote abortion on demand, birth control abortions around the world and here with taxpayer funding. This is just another manifestation of his unfortunately extreme position.
MARGARET WARNER: So what do you think--just a minute Congresswoman. What do you think, Congressman, are going to be--is going to be the political fallout from this decision this year?
REP. CHRIS SMITH: I think the President now has clearly demonstrated how extreme he is. He got away with it in Arkansas when he signed a health exception for late-term abortions which absolutely rendered that legislation meaningless, because we all know that health means anything. He now has tried this ploy again. It worked before. He thinks it might work again. But I think the electorate is much more informed. Abortion will be a front burner, not a back burner issue, and when people become aware, as, as Sen. Smith so well observed in his comments on the Senate floor, how can we do this to children, girls, boys, killed in such a hideous faction of actually sucking their brains out? It is child abuse. The President has locked arms with the abortion industry, a multimillion dollar industry that is making its money by killing babies in this fashion.
MARGARET WARNER: All right, Congresswoman, address, if you would, the political ramifications of this.
REP. NITA LOWEY: I would think that the American people are smart enough to know that President Clinton wants to see abortion safe, legal, and rare. Bob Dole wants to see abortion unsafe, illegal, and non-existent. Bob Dole supports a constitutional amendment to outlaw all kinds of abortion. He even supports outlawing abortion, as does Chris Smith, in the case of rape and incest for the most vulnerable. So this clearly was a political decision by Bob Dole and Chris Smith and the radical right of the Republican Party. They want to take women back to the back alleys. They don't want to see Roe V. Wade, the law of the land. The President was the reasonable one, offering to sign the bill if it had an exception in addition to life for serious, serious health risks. And I, myself, worked with the administration and wanted to work with Republicans to craft those kinds of exceptions. It's Bob Dole who is unreasonable and Chris Smith and the radical right of the Republican Party, and I think the majority of American women want the right to choose. They want to make these difficult decisions with their physician, with their loved ones. They don't want Chris Smith and Bob Dole and this Congress outlawing all kinds of abortion.
MARGARET WARNER: Just briefly--a brief, final word.
REP. CHRIS SMITH: When you try to protect unborn children from dismemberment, chemical poisoning, in this case partial birth abortions, it's called extreme. I happen to believe that Bob Dole is a very compassionate man. He believes in the sanctity of human life, and he's willing to say taxpayers shouldn't subsidize it and in many cases when we can protect those children, we should. Unfortunately, Bill Clinton has tried to force every taxpayer to pay for every abortion, and now we're talking about a method that is so cruel that it is nothing but child abuse. Children killed in this way--I wouldn't do this to a cat. I wouldn't do this to a dog, nor do I think anybody listening would do it. Yet, we do it every day to little baby boys and baby girls.
MARGARET WARNER: Congressman, we'll have to leave it there. Thank you both very much.
REP. CHRIS SMITH: Thank you.