WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In what a U.S. archbishop called "a vital step in the right direction for our nation," President Bush signed the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act into law Nov. 5 at a Washington ceremony attended by many Catholic leaders.
"The facts about partial-birth abortion are troubling and tragic, and no lawyer’s brief can make them seem otherwise," Bush said. "By acting to prevent this practice, the elected branches of our government have affirmed a basic standard of humanity, the duty of the strong to protect the weak."
The president said a partial-birth abortion "involves the partial delivery of a live boy or girl, and a sudden, violent end to that life."
"Our nation owes its children a different and better welcome," he added.
Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Denver, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, said the signing "marks the first time in three decades that our nation has placed any restriction on an abortion procedure."
"We commend the president for his action, and we pledge our prayers and support to see that this brutal procedure remains prohibited by law and intolerable to the American people," the archbishop added in a Nov. 5 statement.
The pro-life committee and the Knights of Columbus also published full-page ads in USA Today and Roll Call newspapers Nov. 5 thanking Bush and "members of Congress on both sides of the aisle" for approving the ban, which has already been challenged by abortion providers as an unconstitutional restriction on abortion.
"The struggle over partial-birth abortion is not over, and the ban faces a court challenge," said the ad, signed by "millions of Catholics across the United States."
"But today our nation is one step closer to a culture of life," the ad said.
The partial-birth abortion procedure, used only in the second half of pregnancy, is defined in the law as the partial delivery of a fetus from the womb "for the purpose of performing an overt act that the person knows will kill the partially delivered living fetus" and then performing that act, killing the partially delivered fetus instead of delivering it alive.
Pro-life members of Congress have been working since 1993 to ban the procedure. Bills barring partial-birth abortions were twice vetoed by President Clinton on grounds that there was no health exception in them. A health provision would have rendered the legislation virtually meaningless because of the broad definition of maternal health given by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1973 in its decisions to legalize abortion.
"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. "Today, at last, the American people and our government have confronted the violence and come to the defense of the innocent child."
He also pledged to "vigorously defend this law against any who would try to overturn it in the courts."
Among the approximately 400 people attending the signing ceremony at the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington were Cardinal Edward M. Egan of New York; Carl A. Anderson, supreme knight of the Knights of Columbus; and Gail Quinn and Richard Doerflinger, director and deputy director of the bishops’ Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities.
Anderson said in a statement that with the signing Bush "has brought us closer to the day when we will see a culture of life in America" and closer to "our shared goal of building a society that honors and values all human life, including the life of the unborn."
Father Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life, said in a statement that the United States has now "turned a corner in the war against abortion."
"Rhetoric has yielded to reason, as the public has focused on the concrete violence of the partial-birth abortion procedure, rather than on abstract arguments about ‘abortion rights,’" he said.
Father Pavone called on pro-life Americans to "fight with all their might" to defend the ban in court "because that only serves to instruct the public that Roe vs. Wade is far worse than most people think."
But less than an hour after the president signed the legislation, U.S. District Judge Richard Kopf of Lincoln, Neb., issued an injunction against implementation of the law. The ruling applied only to Dr. LeRoy Carhart of Bellevue, Neb., and three other abortion providers who had filed suit against the law.
Carhart’s earlier fight against Nebraska’s partial-birth abortion ban led to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2000 Stenberg vs. Carhart decision overturning the state law.
As the hearing began, Kopf said the federal legislation had "serious vagueness problems" and expressed concern that there was no exception for a mother’s health.
"It seems to me that the law is highly suspect, if not a per se violation of the Constitution," the judge said.
The law also has been challenged in lawsuits in San Francisco and New York City.