The U.S. pro-life movement won what was probably its most significant victory since the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe. v. Wade court decision when the U.S. Senate on Oct. 21 voted 64-34 to ban the practice of the partial-birth abortion method. At press time, President George W. Bush indicated that he was looking forward to signing the legislation into law.

“This is very important legislation that will end an abhorrent practice and continue to build a culture of life in America,” the president said.

Pro-abortion groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Abortion Federation, were predictably outraged at the development. Despite the hideous nature of partial-birth abortion, which involves killing a baby while she is partially delivered, they vowed to go to court immediately to stop what they saw as “a dangerous incursion” against the Roe v. Wade ruling, which legalized abortion throughout the U.S.

Previous efforts to enact a ban were stymied by former president Bill Clinton, who twice vetoed similar bills that came to his desk. Clinton claimed that the bills lacked loopholes to “protect the health of the mother.”

This time, however, with a sympathetic president in the White House, 17 Democrats joined 47 Republicans to pass the legislation. Representatives on both sides of the debate agreed that the passage of the bill was of major consequence.

The bill’s sponsor, Senator Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), said the event marked “a significant victory as we continue to build a more compassionate society and a culture that values every human life.”

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), a heart surgeon, said the ban has the potential to save thousands of soon-to-be-born babies. “I can say without equivocation that partial-birth abortion is brutal, it is barbaric, it is morally offensive and it is outside the mainstream of medical practice.”

However, Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean charged the legislation will “endanger the lives of countless women,” while Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said she thought it is “a radical, radical thing that is about to happen here.”

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, said Attorney-General John Ashcroft has to put up a stiff legal defence if the legislation is to survive a court challenge. “Given an activist judiciary, the prospects for the ban surviving a court challenge are dim unless the attorney-general is ready to pour resources and energy into the fight to defend it.”

The bill defines partial-birth abortion as delivery of a fetus “until, in the case of a head-first presentation, the entire fetal head is outside the body of the mother, or, in the case of a breech presentation, any part of the fetal trunk past the navel is outside the body of the mother for the purpose of performing an overt act that the person knows will kill the partially delivered fetus.”