THE SOONER CATHOLIC
WASHINGTON (CNS)—Boston Cardinal Bernard F. Law, as chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Pro-life Activities, denounced President Clinton's veto of a bill banning the so-called partial-birth abortion procedure.
"I do so not only from the resources of our faith, but also as a citizen, who like millions of others, fears that this veto further imperils the human rights principles that have guided our nation for over 200 years," said the cardinal in a statement released shortly after the president's action April 10. Cardinal Law urged lawmakers to override the veto.
The measure reached the president's desk April 5, after a bipartisan House vote approved the Senate version of the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act. The president had threatened the veto since February when he wrote to lawmakers asking for an amendment that would include an exception for the procedure in cases where the mother's health was in danger.
Lawmakers did not add this broader exception, but the bill explicitly allowed the procedure to be performed to save the life of the mother.
The president struck down the bill in an emotional ceremony that included the testimony of five women who had undergone the procedure in the late stages of pregnancies they said involved fetal disorders.
In vetoing the bill, Clinton called the procedure a "potentially lifesaving, certainly health-saving" measure for "a small but extremely vulnerable group of women and families in this country, just a few hundred a year."
The procedure involves inducing labor to partially deliver a fetus, then stabbing surgical scissors into the base of the infant's head. Suction is used to remove the brains, allowing for easier removal of the rest of the fetus.
Los Angeles Cardinal Roger M. Mahony also condemned the president's action, comparing it to other "extraordinary attacks upon human life" such as the beginning of world wars and terrorist attacks. "That he would make himself the herald of the 'culture of death' as we Christians celebrate the triumph of life in the resurrection of Jesus saddens me even more," he said.
"In a world so filled with violence against children, it is incomprehensible that anyone could knowingly support such violence, particularly a president who has so often expressed concern for the welfare of our nation's children," said Philadelphia Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua.
Bishop James T. McHugh of Camden, N.J., called the president's action horrendous and said it is "further evidence of his pro-abortion commitment."
Washington Cardinal James A. Hickey urged Catholics and all Americans who respect life to "sit up and take notice." "Thoughtful Americans should keep this in mind as they ponder their choices on election day," he said.
Other leaders and groups also condemned the veto.
"In order to pay a political debt to pro-abortion activists, President Clinton will allow thousands of living, late-term babies to be mostly delivered and then painfully killed," said Douglas Johnson, legislative director for the National Right to Life Committee.
"Although 71 percent of voters nationwide support a ban on partial birth abortion ... today the president has shown himself to be uncompromising in his advocacy of abortion," said Rep. Charles T. Canady, R-Fla., who introduced the bill in the House. He was citing results of a national poll conducted by the Tarrance Group that was released Jan. 18.
"I believe the American public will find this unacceptable," Canady said, adding that he intended to discuss with House leaders the possibility of taking up the bill again to override the veto.
Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., said Clinton's argument that he could not sign the bill without a health exception was "phony."
"If Bill Clinton's 'health' exception were incorporated into the bill, not one abortion would be prohibited," he said.
Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole of Kan., who will undoubtedly be the Republican presidential candidate opposing Clinton later this year, said he was "profoundly disappointed" by the veto. "A partial-birth abortion blurs the line between abortion and infanticide, and crosses an ethical and legal line we must never cross," he said. "President Clinton now stands on the wrong side of this line."
Rep. Henry Hyde, R-Ill., chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said the bill outlawed "a uniquely barbaric method of abortion," adding that he feared "a coarsening of our national conscience if we tolerate this form of torture."
Chicago Cardinal Joseph L. Bernardin said he was "deeply offended and bewildered by President Clinton's veto."
"For over 10 years, I have preached the importance of a consistent ethic of life," he said. This ethic serves as an intellectual framework and a motivation for action, but "also serves as an instrument for evaluating the service of our elected officials with regard to life issues, including abortion."
"It is not enough to say that one is opposed to abortion or to say that abortion should be "safe, legal and rare," he said, quoting the president. "I regret to say that while I and my brother bishops are consistent, the president is not."
Supreme Knight Virgil C. Dechant, head of the 1.5 million- member Knights of Columbus, said it appears the president is "simply too beholden to his most extreme pro-abortion supporters to take even this very limited action of behalf of unborn children. We are all the losers."
By this veto, the president did a great disservice to Catholic Americans "who will provide the pivotal vote in this year's elections," said Michael A. Ferguson, executive director of the Catholic Campaign for America in Washington. "Catholic Americans will not forget in November that we need a president who will promote a respect for all human life," he said.
John E. Curley Jr., president and CEO of the Catholic Health Association of the United States, said the president's veto "represents flawed moral leadership that runs fundamentally contrary to the beliefs of an overwhelming majority of Americans."
He said it "positions the president on the extreme end of the abortion debate, and ... represents a serious political miscalculation."
In the wake of the veto, Benedictine Father Matthew Habiger, president of Human Life International, asked, "Has (the president) no conscience?" "Clinton is nothing less than an accessory to murder," said the head of the worldwide pro-life group based in Gaithersburg, Md. "The president who promised to make abortion 'safe, legal and rare' is every bit as guilty as the abortionist."
Father Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life, a pro-life network of more than 40,000 Catholic priests and deacons based in Staten Island, N.Y., said the procedure "is one of many proofs of how extreme the so celled 'pro-choice' movement is."
"Anyone who intends to speak or vote in favor of this president should be informed of what partial-birth abortion is," he said, "and about what Mr. Clinton has done to see that it remains part of American life."
"Unlike most Americans, Clinton supports abortion-on-demand for all nine months of pregnancy," said Beverly LaHaye, president and founder of Concerned Women for America, a nationwide public policy organization based in Washington.
"This veto will isolate him from mainstream America and prove just how far left his policies are," she said.
Clarke D. Forsythe, president of Americans United for Life, a public interest law firm based in Chicago, said the veto "is likely to lead to the proliferation of this horrendous procedure for late-term abortions."
Editorials in Catholic newspapers also denounced the veto.
"There will be no quivering lower lip, trembling voice or tear from President Clinton over these innocent babies," said an editorial scheduled for the April 12 issue of The Pilot, newspaper of the Boston Archdiocese. "What a continuing disappointment he remains to the pro-life movement."
An editorial of The Tidings, newspaper of the Los Angeles Archdiocese, said the veto was "a great disappointment to pro-lifers."
"What makes this setback different from others the pro-life movement has suffered during the past four years is that this time there are others who share prolifers' frustration and anger at the president's action," the editorial stated.
Not all reaction to the veto was negative, however.
"We applaud and commend President Clinton's veto of the abortion-ban bill and his strong commitment to women, families and the freedom to choose," said Kate Michelman, president of the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League in Washington.
"President Clinton's action demonstrates the importance of a pro-choice presidency in safeguarding reproductive rights against a Congress intent on returning women, step by step, to the back alleys," she added in a statement.
L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, criticized Clinton's veto of the bill, saying it was one more step toward the "culture of death."
A commentary April 12 said Clinton's action came in the context of the presidential election later this year, and added: "Even in the United States, a fundamental right like the right to life is made an object of exchange with potential voters in order to gain approval."
It said abortion was always an "abominable crime," but was particularly repugnant in later stages of pregnancy. The line between late-term abortion and infanticide is so tenuous, it said, that no ethical or legal justification is possible.
It predicted that at this rate, there would eventually be efforts to legalize the killing of newborns, using the same "piteous motives" now offered to justify abortion.