Specter in 1996 on Partial-Birth Abortion: 'It is Infanticide'

October 15, 2012 - 1:28 PM

Obit Arlen Specter

FILE - Former U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter, longtime Senate moderate, died Sunday, Oct. 14, 2012. He was 82. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

(CNSNews.com) – The late Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.), who died Sunday, is being remembered Monday for many things -- including a 1996 speech in which he labeled partial-birth abortion as “infanticide.”

“The line of the law is drawn, in my legal judgment, when the child is partially out of the womb of the mother,” Specter said Sept. 26, 1996 on the floor of the U.S. Senate.

“It is no longer abortion; it is infanticide,” he said.

The comments came during debate on the attempt to override President Clinton’s veto of the partial-birth abortion ban:

“Mr. President, this is among the most difficult of the 6,003 votes I have cast in the Senate because it involves a decision of life and death on the line between when a woman may choose abortion and what constitutes infanticide,” Specter told his Senate colleagues.

“In my legal judgment, the issue is not over a woman's right to choose within the constitutional context of Roe versus Wade or Planned Parenthood versus Casey. If it were, Congress could not legislate. Congress is neither competent to micromanage doctors' decisions nor constitutionally permitted to legislate where the life or health of the mother is involved in an abortion.

“In my legal judgment, the medical act or acts of commission or omission in interfering with, or not facilitating the completion of a live birth after a child is partially out of the mother's womb constitute infanticide. The line of the law is drawn, in my legal judgment, when the child is partially out of the womb of the mother. It is no longer abortion; it is infanticide.”

Specter, who typically supported abortion rights legislation, noted the harsh  reaction of the public to partial-birth abortion – in which a baby is partially delivered from the womb, and an instrument, which is inserted at the base of the skull, is used to suction out the baby’s brain.

“From mail, town meetings and personal contacts, I have found widespread revulsion on the procedure on partial-birth abortions,” Specter said.

“This has been voiced by those who are pro-choice as well as pro-life. Whatever the specifics of the procedure, if it is permitted to continue, it may be sufficiently repugnant to create sufficient public pressure to pass a constitutional amendment to reverse Roe.”

Specter's vote in favor of the unsuccessful attempt to override President Clinton's veto was actually a change in position, according to then-Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.).

During debate on a later (1997) bill, Santorum noted that Specter had not supported the partial-birth abortion bill on the original vote in 1995, but changed his mind before the veto-override vote.

“I stood on that Senate floor in 1995 with Senator Specter arguing with me heatedly and differing with me,” Santorum said. “To Senator Specter’s credit, he studied it, he looked at it, and he had a change of heart. Again, that takes courage. ‘The line of the law is drawn,’ Senator Specter said,” Santorum told the Senate.

Specter, meanwhile, reiterated in his statement that his opposition to partial-birth abortion did not change his basic position in favor of abortion rights.

“This vote does not affect my basic views on the pro-choice/pro-life issue,” Specter also told his Senate colleagues. “While I am personally opposed to abortion, I do not believe it can be controlled by the Government. It is a matter for women and families with guidance from ministers, priests, and rabbis.”

The former Republican-turned-Democrat senator died Sunday at age 82.

Congress first passed partial-birth abortion bans back in 1995 and again in 1997, but both were vetoed by President Clinton. It was not until 2003 that the partial-birth abortion ban became law, and was upheld in 2007 by the U.S. Supreme Court.

-----------------------------------

Here are Specter’s complete remarks (taken from the Congressional Record):

Mr. SPECTER. Mr. President, this is among the most difficult of the 6,003 votes I have cast in the Senate because it involves a decision of life and death on the line between when a woman may choose abortion and what constitutes infanticide.

In my legal judgment, the issue is not over a woman's right to choose within the constitutional context of Roe versus Wade or Planned Parenthood versus Casey. If it were, Congress could not legislate. Congress is neither competent to micromanage doctors' decisions nor constitutionally permitted to legislate where the life or health of the mother is involved in an abortion.

In my legal judgment, the medical act or acts of commission or omission in interfering with, or not facilitating the completion of a live birth after a child is partially out of the mother's womb constitute infanticide. The line of the law is drawn, in my legal judgment, when the child is partially out of the womb of the mother. It is no longer abortion; it is infanticide.

This vote does not affect my basic views on the pro-choice/pro-life issue. While I am personally opposed to abortion, I do not believe it can be controlled by the government. It is a matter for women and families with guidance from ministers, priests, and rabbis.

Having stated my core rationale, I think it appropriate to make a few related observations:

Regrettably, the issue has been badly politicized. It was first placed on the calendar for a vote without any hearing and now the vote on overriding the president's veto has been delayed until the final stages of the presidential campaign.

We had only one hearing which was insufficient for consideration of the complex issues. After considerable study and reflection on many factors including the status of the child partly out of the womb, I have decided to vote for the bill and to override the President's veto. As I view it, it would have been vastly preferable to have scheduled the vote in the regular course of the Senate's business without delaying it as close to the election as possible.

From mail, town meetings and personal contacts, I have found widespread revulsion on the procedure on partial-birth abortions. This has been voiced by those who are pro-choice as well as pro-life. Whatever the specifics of the procedure, if it is permitted to continue, it may be sufficiently repugnant to create sufficient public pressure to pass a constitutional amendment to reverse Roe.

It has been hard to make a factual determination because of the conflicting medical claims on both sides of the issue.

Solomon would be hard pressed to decide between two beautiful children: First one whose mother had a prior partial -birth abortion and says that otherwise she would have been rendered sterile without the capability to have her later child; second, one born with a correctable birth defect where the mother had been counseled to abort because of indications of major abnormalities. Human judgment is incapable of saying which is right. We do see many children with significant birth defects surviving with a lesser quality and length of life, but with much love and affection between parents and children and much meaning and value to that life. No one can say how many children are on each side of that equation.

If partial -birth abortions are banned, women will retain the right to choose during most of pregnancy and doctors will retain the right to act to save the life of the mother.

After being deeply involved in the pro-life/pro-choice controversy for three decades as a district attorney and Senator, I believe we should find a better way to resolve these issues than through this legislative process.