Roman Catholic leaders in the U.S., including Cardinal John O’Connor of New York have urged President Bill Clinton to change his position on late-term abortions.

In a letter to the president, Cardinal O’Connor and other U.S. cardinals said Clinton and the public were deceived by a leading abortion supporter last year who said the partial-birth abortion technique was rare and was used only in cases where the mother’s health was at risk.

The abortion supporter, Ron Fitzsimmons of the National Coalition of Abortion Providers, recently said his comments on partial-birth abortion were false. He admitted that the procedure is used up to 5,000 times per year and that it occurs in both the second and third trimester of pregnancy.

Cardinal O’Connor read the letter to people at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan, adding, “I plead with you to pray that this horror of infanticide will be once and for all banned from our land.”

The New York cardinal has been one of the most outspoken critics of Clinton’s veto of a bill which would have prohibited partial-birth abortion. The Fitzsimmons’ admission has fuelled hope in some pro-life circles that Clinton may be softening his extreme pro-abortion position.

On March 7, Clinton said he would veto new legislation unless it allows partial-birth abortion to protect a woman’s health or fertility. A new bill has been reintroduced in the Senate and House of Representatives which would only allow the procedure if the pregnancy somehow threatened a woman’s life.

Meanwhile, the Clinton administration is working on a compromise that would ban abortion after 23 weeks, unless a mother’s health is in jeopardy. If the president were to agree to such a compromise, it would mark the first federal restriction on legal abortion in 25 years.

Under the plan, abortions would be prohibited when the unborn child becomes viable. Viability is generally considered to be in the second or third trimester.

The 1973 Roe v. Wad Supreme Court decision did not outlaw late-term abortions, but gave states the right to do so. Massachusetts and 40 other states have banned late-term abortions.

The goal of the Clinton administration now is to come up with a bipartisan bill that does not clash with the Roe v. Wade decision, and that can withstand legal challenges.