President Clinton outdid himself this week for saying one thing while meaning another—particularly when it comes to abortion. First, the president announced his veto of H.R. 1833. This bill, which passed by overwhelming majorities in both houses of Congress, would mercifully ban a practice known as partial-birth abortion. Lest we forget, this is the procedure in which a living baby that is fully delivered—except that the baby’s head is left within the birth canal—is killed via a scissors into the base of the skull and a suction catheter into the brain.
In a statement to Congress accompanying his veto, the president suggested that he really wished he could have signed the bill. Indeed, he said he would have signed it, if only Congress had adopted an ostensibly benign amendment proposed by the president himself.
The president was lying to get himself out of a tight spot. Had he simply vetoed the partial-birth abortion ban, it would be hard to follow his political handlers’ mandate that he must position himself as a “social conservative” to win reelection. But signing the bill would have alienated many of his more radical supporters. They hate everything about this bill, even its name. They deny that there is any such thing as a “partial-birth abortion,” preferring the genteel and obfuscatory term “dilation and extraction”—referring to the “extraction” of the “contents of the skull.” But the most honest name of all for this procedure would be “partial-birth infanticide.”
Our president’s veto message portrays his proposed amendment to H.R. 1833 as necessary to prevent “serious, adverse health consequences” to women.
The president does this by, first, professing long-held opposition to elective, late-term abortions. Then he contends that his amendment would make H.R. 1833 constitutionally permissible, under the health exceptions of Roe v. Wade. In making this plea, Mr. Clinton tries to sound pious and compassionate.
The central flaw in the president’s argument is that he simply ignores the constitutional case law dealing with abortion. In Doe v. Bolton, the companion case to Roe v. Wade, the Court defined “health” in such a way as to make it an absolute trump over any and all regulation of abortion. The Court wrote: “[M]edical judgment may be exercised in the light of all factors—physical, emotional, psychological, familial, and the woman’s age—relevant to the well-being of the patient. All these factors may relate to health.”
The two cases, taken as a whole—as they must be according to the Court—inescapably mean that “health” is threatened whenever an abortionist concludes that a woman’s emotional well-being or financial situation might be negatively affected by a pregnancy. It is factually incontrovertible that this definition of health left the abortion industry completely exempt from government regulation. This is true even when an abortionist kills a baby in the final moments before what would have been his or her natural birth.
Nor can there be any serious doubt that under the rule of Doe, the question, whether any potential health consequences are “serious,” like every other question in the health analysis, will be left to the very abortionist who has been retained to perform the procedure. The grim reality of abortion on demand for all nine months’ gestation—and, under the partial-birth procedure, for the first four-fifths of delivery—may unfortunately be America’s best-kept secret (or act of collective denial).
It is beyond belief that this president, with all his education and government service, is simply ignorant of these rudimentary Supreme Court decisions on abortion. He must be aware that his proposal, if adopted, would incorporate the open-ended Doe definition of health, thereby preserving the unfettered license that abortionists now enjoy to commit partial-birth abortions for any reason or no reason at all. If the health exception were incorporated into H.R. 1833, not one abortion would be prohibited by the bill.
It is highly unlikely that the president, a graduate of one of America’s most prestigious law schools, and a man whom the University of Arkansas Law School saw fit to employ as a professor of constitutional law in his first year out of school—the very year Roe was decided—would be so unaware of how the Court defined “health.”
The inescapable conclusion is that President Clinton is, yet again, talking from both sides of his mouth on the subject of abortion. When he condemns elective, late-term abortions, while simultaneously paying homage to the all-permissive health exception of Roe and Doe, he is trying to say one thing to those Americans who are troubled by abortion, while doing something else. That “something” is a badly disguised effort to gut Congress’s effort to abolish a particularly barbaric form of child abuse.