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Partial Responsibility: Democrats & the Court's Abortion Ruling

April 18, 2007

In a calamitous setback for the reproductive rights of American women, the Supreme Court upheld the 2003 Partial Birth Abortion Act. In its 5-4 ruling, the Court handed Republican conservatives a major victory in their "slippery slope" campaign against choice. Sadly, the history shows that many Congressional Democrats were complicit in today's disastrous outcome.
As I wrote back in 2004, significant numbers of Democrats in the House and Senate wavered when it came to protecting the health and safety of American women against a law specifically designed to recognize the importance of neither. Democratic leaders past and present, including Harry Reid, Tom Daschle, Pat Leahy and Evan Bayh, backed the Bush administration:

President Clinton held the line against this approach, twice vetoing partial-birth legislation in the 1990's. While Republican majorities in Congress could not override his veto, the ascension of George W. Bush and his radical anti-choice agenda assured the legislation would become law under his watch.
It did. Congress passed the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003 on October 22, 2003. Large numbers of Democrats joined a nearly unanimous GOP in both houses; the bill passed 63-34 in the Senate, and 281-142 in the House. President Bush signed it into law at a White House ceremony on November 5.
A prescient Senator Barbara Boxer commented called it a "very sad day for the women of America, a very sad day for the families of America" and added that "for the first time in history bans a medical procedure without making any exception for the health of a woman."

Senator Boxer was prescient indeed, as perhaps, was I. The choice foes slippery slope strategy succeeded not only in removing the "health of the mother" principle from the Court's abortion precedents, but laid the groundwork for undermining Sandra Day O'Connor's "undue burden" standard established in Casey.
And despite the national consensus for abortion rights, many Democrats helped make it happen.

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Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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