TRENTON, N.J. – The New Jersey state Senate voted to ban controversial late-term abortions, overriding an earlier veto by Gov. Christine Todd Whitman in the state’s first restriction on abortion in 24 years.

The Republican-controlled senate voted 27-15 December 15 to override the veto by Whitman, the state’s recently re-elected moderate Republican governor.  She earlier this year conditionally vetoed a ban on the late-term abortions. The procedure in question, technically known as intact dilation and extraction, is most often used in the second trimester.

In its landmark Roe v. Wade decision in 1973, the Supreme Court ruled that states may regulate but not prohibit abortions in the second trimester. The ban is the state’s first restriction on abortion since the case, which granted women the right to choose abortion.

Advocates of the ban say the rarely used procedure is infanticide. In the procedure, a fetus is partially removed from the uterus feet first, the fetal brain is suctioned out and then the rest of the fetus is removed.

The American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood said they would immediately challenge the New Jersey law in the courts. The legislature rejected Whitman’s offer to sign an amended bill which would have exempted abortions performed to protect the health of the mother.

The legislators insisted on limiting the exception to cases where the mother’s life was in danger, a restriction Whitman would not accept. Proponents of the more stringent version held that the “health” exception was too broad.

In a letter before the override vote in the state assembly, Whitman said she regarded the strict ban to be unconstitutional and expected a successful legal challenge.

She called the vote “a matter of conscience,” and not a break in party discipline. Republican leaders have traditionally opposed abortion over the last 20 years.  Whitman had been regarded as a rising star in her party’s moderate wing, but analysts said her position on this issue, as well as her recent narrow reelection over a little-known rival, might frustrate any national ambitions she might have.

The New Jersey situation is being played out on the national stage in the United States. Throughout 1995 and 1996, President Bill Clinton was locked in a heated battle with Congress over partial birth abortion. Clinton has twice vetoed a ban on the procedure, offering as a weak defence the need to protect the health of pregnant women. This argument has been repeated deflated by medical experts and pro-life workers who point out that there is no medical necessity for partial birth abortion. Furthermore, the procedure is known to be much more widely used than Clinton would have the nation believe.

– Reuters via Pro-Life E-News Canada