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Abortion Foes To Try New Wording

October 12, 1998

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) _ For foes of a controversial late-term abortion procedure, focusing on the specific surgical procedure has brought defeat along with success.

Twenty-eight states have passed laws banning procedures that kill fetuses in the birth canal, according to the Center for Reproductive Law and Policy in New York City.

Courts, however, have blocked 19 of them because they were vaguely worded and could apply to other abortions or they failed to provide exceptions to save mothers’ lives.

Now opponents of so-called ``partial birth abortion″ are trying a new tactic.

Initiative 694 on Washington state’s Nov. 3 ballot shifts the focus from the procedure to the mother, making it a felony to kill an infant ``in the process of birth.″ The measure also coins a new term: ``partial-birth infanticide.″

``This has not been tried anywhere else in the United States,″ said Dr. Bob Bethel, a Poulsbo family physician who sponsored the initiative. ``Roe vs. Wade gives a constitutional right to women that terminate their pregnancies in the womb. The court has never said that a woman has the right to terminate an infant in the process of being born.″

The initiative states that the birth process has begun when three conditions are met: the woman’s cervix is dilated, her water has broken and the fetus has moved into the birth canal.

Supporters of abortion rights say the new wording is a ruse, the first step in a national plan to get Roe vs. Wade, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision, overturned.

They note that any of the measure’s three conditions could be present in a legal abortion. For example, a procedure that uses chemicals or suction could kill a fetus as it moves through the birth canal _ something that would be ``infanticide″ under the measure.

``I think they’re trying to dupe voters by using the word `infanticide’ because everyone opposes infanticide,″ said Julie Kay, attorney for the New York organization.

Abortion rights advocates also say that although the measure makes no mention of contraception, it offers a new definition of pregnancy that could make some contraceptives illegal. Pregnancy now legally begins when the egg lodges in the uterine lining, but the measure says it begins at conception. The advocates say this could ban birth control pills that keep the egg from implanting along the uterus.

The measure faces a tough test in Washington, where voters have upheld abortion rights three times since 1970 and it’s already a felony to abort a ``viable pregnancy,″ defined as a fetus that could survive on its own without extraordinary medical measures. Furthermore, late-term abortions are exceedingly rare in Washington. The state Department of Health does not keep statistics on the procedure itself but says that only three of the 26,138 abortions performed in 1996 involved women more than 26 weeks pregnant.

A poll last week showed the two sides neck and neck, with only a tenth of voters undecided.

Meanwhile, voters in Colorado will consider two abortion measures. One would require parental notification for minors. The other would ban late-term abortions, also known as intact dilation and extraction but referred to as partial-birth abortion by organizers. Under the procedure, an advanced fetus enters the birth canal where the surgeon makes an incision and drains the skull so the fetus can pass through the dilated cervix.

``Many legal experts agree there is a likelihood a partial-birth abortion ban will be upheld,″ said Gary Rogers, head of the Colorado Prolife Alliance and co-sponsor of the amendment there. ``Every state is waiting for the U.S. Supreme Court to issue guidelines on what is acceptable.″

The Republican-led Congress has twice passed legislation banning the procedure, but the GOP has been unable to override President Clinton’s vetoes.

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