The Senate took three critical votes in the week before war began, addressing issues near to the hearts of social conservatives. In considering the ban on partial-birth abortions, the Senate first voted on a symbolic-though hugely meaningful-amendment expressing support for the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which abolished all existing laws restricting abortion. That amendment barely passed, demonstrating the Senate’s pro-abortion composition in spite of Republican control. The Senate then easily passed the ban on the particularly gruesome procedure of partial birth abortion.
On the same day, the Senate once again failed to invoke cloture and hold an up-or-down vote on the nomination of Miguel Estrada to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.
Senate Votes To Ban Partial Birth Abortion
On March 13, by a vote of 64-33, the Senate approved a bill (S. 3) to ban the abortion procedure known as partial birth abortion.
Such abortions begin with the partial delivery of a late-term gestating infant, leaving only the baby’s head inside the mother’s womb. The abortionist then punctures the infant’s skull and suctions out his brains. He then delivers the rest of the infant dead, in pieces if necessary, finishing a grisly procedure that, according to all polling data, a vast majority of Americans think should be illegal.
Sen. Rick Santorum (R.-Penn.), using the testimony of a former abortion clinic worker, described the heartbreaking scene at such abortions, beginning with the baby squirming with its arms and legs as he is partially delivered.
“The baby will react like that and shoot its arms and legs out, not knowing what is going on,” said Santorum. “This baby doesn’t have any time to understand, because in that moment in which this little girl’s or boy’s arms spasm out like that, the baby is dead. But the procedure doesn’t end, the insult doesn’t end, because the doctor then takes these scissors and pulls them, causing the scissors to pull the skull open-to break the skull apart so he can create a hole in the baby’s head, big enough for a suction catheter to be inserted into the base of the baby’s brain.
They turn on this vacuum suction tube. Then they suction the baby’s brain contents out-the cranial contents out. Because of the softness of the baby’s skull, the skull collapses and the baby is then delivered dead.
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D.-Calif.), one of the most strident advocates of legalized abortion on demand through all nine months of pregnancy, defended the procedure. The bill was unconstitutional, she said, because it does not include an exception for the mother’s “health.”
“The Justices [of the Supreme Court] have felt all these years that a woman’s health is important, and I guess some people in this body don’t feel that way,” she said. “That is your choice. But it is not constitutional.”
Boxer made this argument even though such an exception would render the bill meaningless in several ways. By giving abortion profiteers sole discretion over whether a woman’s “health” would be negatively affected by a pregnancy, it would allow such things as a mere upset stomach to become justification for killing a full-term baby on the verge of natural childbirth.
With this in mind, the Senate rejected two amendments containing health exemptions.
Boxer also complained that there had been no committee hearings on the bill. “I think a hearing would be salutary,” she said. “We could once again hear from the women who have gone through this procedure, many of whom . . . call themselves very religious, very pro-life.”
The Senate easily passed the bill, with even some of the most pro-abortion senators voting for it. Interestingly, Senators Joe Biden (D.-Del.), John Edwards (D.-N.C.) and John Kerry (D.-Mass.)-all presidential contenders for the Democrats-did not show up to vote.
Even though it will probably not prevent many abortions from occurring, this bill represents the high-water mark so far of the pro-life movement on the federal level. It therefore contains a great deal of symbolic meaning. Pro-lifers hope that it is the beginning of a long, incremental process that leads to the protection of all human life in the laws and constitutions of all 50 states, or even in the U.S. Constitution.
The partial birth abortion ban will easily pass in the House as well, and President Bush has promised to sign it.
A “yes” vote was a vote to ban the grisly procedure known as partial birth abortion. A “no” vote was a vote against the bill.
FOR THE BILL (64):
REPUBLICANS FOR (48): Alexander, Allard, Allen, Bennett, Bond, Brownback, Bunning, Burns, Campbell, Chambliss, Cochran, Coleman, Cornyn, Craig, Crapo, DeWine, Dole, Domenici, Ensign, Enzi, Fitzgerald, Frist, Graham (S.C.), Grassley, Gregg, Hagel, Hatch, Hutchison, Inhofe, Kyl, Lott, Lugar, McCain, McConnell, Murkowski, Nickles, Roberts, Santorum, Sessions, Shelby, Smith, Specter, Stevens, Sununu, Talent, Thomas, Voinovich and Warner.
DEMOCRATS FOR (16): Bayh, Breaux, Byrd, Carper, Conrad, Daschle, Dorgan, Hollings, Johnson, Landrieu, Leahy, Lincoln, Miller, Nelson (Neb.), Pryor, and Reid (Nev.).
AGAINST THE BILL (33):
REPUBLICANS AGAINST (3): Chafee, Collins, and Snowe.
DEMOCRATS AGAINST (29): Akaka, Baucus, Bingaman, Boxer, Cantwell, Clinton, Corzine, Dayton, Dodd, Durbin, Feingold, Feinstein, Graham (Fla.), Harkin, Inouye, Kennedy, Kohl, Lautenberg, Levin, Lieberman, Mikulski, Murray, Nelson (Fla.), Reed (R.I.), Rockefeller, Sarbanes, Schumer, Stabenow, and Wyden.
INDEPENDENT AGAINST (1): Jeffords.
NOT VOTING (3): Biden, Edwards, and Kerry.
Senate Expresses Support For Roe v. Wade
On March 12, by a vote of 52-46, the Senate approved an amendment to the partial-birth abortion ban that expresses the sense of the Senate that the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision-in which the court created a constitutional right to abortion on demand-should not be overturned.
“This amendment . . . puts us on record of saying the decision in Roe v. Wade on January 22, 1973, was appropriate and should not be overturned,” said Harkin. “I believe it is important that we remind ourselves about this decision as we get into the debate on this so-called partial-birth abortion.”
Among those opposed to Harkin’s amendment was freshman Sen. Lindsey Graham (R.-S.C.), who derided Roe because it effectively removed abortion from the political process. “I do disagree with the concept that the government has no role in determining when life begins, how it should be ended, and who can end it, in a democracy,” he said.
Although the amendment did not substantially affect the bill, the vote clarified the positions of several new senators on abortion. It also confirmed the views of the old regime.
Mark Pryor (D.-Ark.), who had been as ambiguous as possible on the issue of abortion during his 2002 election campaign, voted against Roe. The same was true of Sen. Ben Nelson (D.-Neb.), whose abortion rhetoric was mixed during his 2000 election campaign.
On the other side, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R.-Alaska)-appointed by her pro-life father Gov. Frank Murkowski (R.-Alaska) to his old seat-showed just how big a mistake his nepotism was by voting in favor of Roe.
Older senators like John Warner (R.-Va.), Kay Bailey Hutchison (R.-Tex.) and Ted Stevens (R.-Alaska) flaunted their pro-abortion stances. New Senators Lamar Alexander (R.-Tenn.), Lindsey Graham (R.-S.C.), Norm Coleman (R.-Minn.), Jim Talent (R.-Mo.), Saxby Chambliss (R.-Ga.) and John Cornyn (R.-Tex.) had a chance to put their opposition to Roe v. Wade on the record. In fact, all of the newly elected senators from both parties voted pro-life on the Harkin amendment.
Interestingly, despite a net loss of four GOP senators in the last four years, the same number voted against Roe this time as the last time Harkin proposed his amendment in October 1999. (There were 47 “no” votes that year, as there would have been this time if Mitch McConnell had been present to vote on the amendment.)
A “yes” vote was a vote for the Harkin amendment, to show one’s support for the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. A “no” vote was a vote demonstrating opposition to Roe.
FOR THE AMENDMENT (52):
REPUBLICANS FOR (9): Campbell, Chafee, Collins, Hutchison, Murkowski, Snowe, Specter, Stevens, and Warner.
DEMOCRATS FOR (42): Akaka, Baucus, Bayh, Bingaman, Boxer, Byrd, Cantwell, Carper, Clinton, Conrad, Corzine, Daschle, Dayton, Dodd, Dorgan, Durbin, Edwards, Feingold, Feinstein, Graham (Fla.), Harkin, Hollings, Inouye, Johnson, Kennedy, Kerry, Kohl, Landrieu, Lautenberg, Leahy, Levin, Lieberman, Lincoln, Mikulski, Murray, Nelson (Fla.), Reed (R.I.), Rockefeller, Sarbanes, Schumer, Stabenow, and Wyden.
INDEPENDENT FOR (1): Jeffords.
AGAINST THE AMENDMENT (46):
REPUBLICANS AGAINST (41): Alexander, Allard, Allen, Bennett, Bond, Brownback, Bunning, Burns, Chambliss, Cochran, Coleman, Cornyn, Craig, Crapo, DeWine, Dole, Domenici, Ensign, Enzi, Fitzgerald, Frist, Graham (S.C.), Grassley, Gregg, Hagel, Hatch, Inhofe, Kyl, Lott, Lugar, McCain, Nickles, Roberts, Santorum, Sessions, Shelby, Smith, Sununu, Talent, Thomas, and Voinovich.
DEMOCRATS AGAINST (5): Breaux, Miller, Nelson (Neb.), Pryor, and Reid (Nev.).
NOT VOTING (2): Biden and McConnell.
Democrats Block Fair Vote on Estrada Nomination
On March 13, by a vote of 55-42, the Senate rejected a motion to end debate on the nomination of Miguel Estrada, and take a final floor vote to confirm him to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. Sixty votes were required to invoke cloture.
The Estrada nomination has been an extremely controversial issue ever since the last congressional term, when Democrats, who controlled the Senate, refused the Honduran-born attorney a committee hearing for more than a full year after President Bush nominated him.
Even though the liberal American Bar Association gave Estrada its highest “well-qualified” rating, Democrats have been filibustering the nomination, preventing it from getting a vote. In doing so, they are taking a major risk-satisfying their left-wing base at the possible expense of their ethnic base.
Democrats suspect that Estrada may be a conservative, although he has no record on political issues.
They also worry that President Bush’s elevation of Hispanic conservatives could prevent the Democratic Party from achieving a political stranglehold on that ethnic group.
To that end, Senate Democrats have abandoned all pretense of fairness in their quest to force the nomination to fail.
Although Estrada easily has the 50 votes he needs to gain confirmation, Democrats have made up their minds to prevent a vote, and they show no sign of willingness to negotiate. At this point, it appears unlikely that a deal will materialize since the Democrats have brought the issue to a boiling point with their hard-core left constituency.
Estrada now has answered 148 questions from members of the Senate, both in writing and at his committee hearing. Republicans have tried 18 times to get a floor vote to no avail. After more than 100 hours of Senate debate on the nomination, Republicans have filed two cloture motions (the vote tallied below is the second), and both have failed to get the needed 60 votes.
As one excuse for their filibuster of this nomination, Democrats have demanded that the Justice Department turn over confidential memoranda written by Estrada while he was working in the solicitor General’s office under the Clinton administration.
But all seven living former Solicitors General-including members of both parties-have said that the release of these memos should not be allowed because it will set a bad precedent, harming the Justice Department’s ability to function.
In spite of their proclaimed lack of knowledge about Estrada, Democrats have twice refused offers to hold a second confirmation hearing for him.
A “yes” vote was a vote for cloture on the Estrada nomination-that is, a vote to end debate and hold a final up-or-down vote on the nomination. A “no” vote was a vote against cloture, to continue debate, essentially denying a chance for an up-or-down vote.
FOR THE MOTION (55):
REPUBLICANS FOR (51): Alexander, Allard, Allen, Bennett, Bond, Brownback, Bunning, Burns, Campbell, Chafee, Chambliss, Cochran, Coleman, Collins, Cornyn, Craig, Crapo, DeWine, Dole, Domenici, Ensign, Enzi, Fitzgerald, Frist, Graham (S.C.), Grassley, Gregg, Hagel, Hatch, Hutchison, Inhofe, Kyl, Lott, Lugar, McCain, McConnell, Murkowski, Nickles, Roberts, Santorum, Sessions, Shelby, Smith, Snowe, Specter, Stevens, Sununu, Talent, Thomas, Voinovich, and Warner.
DEMOCRATS FOR (4): Breaux, Miller, Nelson (Neb.), and Nelson (Fla.).
AGAINST THE AMENDMENT (46):
REPUBLICANS AGAINST (0)
DEMOCRATS AGAINST (41): Akaka, Baucus, Bayh, Bingaman, Boxer, Byrd, Cantwell, Carper, Clinton, Conrad, Corzine, Daschle, Dayton, Dodd, Dorgan, Durbin, Feingold, Feinstein, Graham (Fla.), Harkin, Hollings, Inouye, Johnson, Kennedy, Kohl, Landrieu, Lautenberg, Leahy, Levin, Lieberman, Lincoln, Mikulski, Murray, Pryor, Reed (R.I.), Reid (Nev.), Rockefeller, Sarbanes, Schumer, Stabenow, and Wyden.
INDEPENDENT AGAINST (1): Jeffords
NOT VOTING (3): Biden, Edwards, and Kerry.