Twice vetoed by President Clinton, a bill to prohibit partial-birth abortion has passed the United States Senate by nearly a 2-1 margin, bringing a ban on what pro-lifers consider as infanticide one step closer to reality.

The 64-33 vote moves the bill to the House, where it is expected to pass. The White House has signalled its support for the ban. Repeating the oft-expressed wishes of President George W. Bush, a state of administration policy released by the Executive Office of the President said it “strongly supports” passage of the Senate ban, saying it was “morally imperative and constitutionally permissible.” The administration said it supported a legitimate life-of-the-mother exception to the ban, but urged that all other exceptions be opposed, so as not to create loopholes.

In his State of the Union speech in January, Bush urged Congress to pass the ban, and on the 30th anniversary of the Roe v Wade court decision, he told the U.S. March for Life that partial-birth abortion was an “abhorrent procedure that offends human dignity.”

The National Right to Life Committee describes partial-birth abortion, known in medical circles as dilation and extraction (D&E) abortion, as “a procedure that jams surgical scissors into the skulls of huge unborn babies and vacuums out their brains like so much soot.”

Still, 33 Senators – 30 Democrats and three Republicans – have voted to maintain the legality of the procedure.

Illinois Senator Peter Fitzgerald said of the hypocrisy of animal rights liberals who support abortion, “I don’t understand how those who can hear the howl of a wolf or the squeal of a dolphin can be deaf to the cry of an unborn child.”

The Alan Guttmacher Institute, a pro-abortion research outfit, recently reported that the number of partial-birth abortions tripled over a recent four-year period. A 1996 survey released in 1998 claimed that there were “about 650” partial birth abortions. In a 2000 survey released earlier this year, Guttmacher claimed 2,200 partial-birth abortions were committed – more than three times the 1996 number.

NRLC legislative director Douglas Johnson said the jump doesn’t make sense. “Either the number of partial-birth abortions is increasing rapidly, or the news media was mistaken in accepting the 1996 figure, or both. In reality, there is good evidence that even the new figure of 2,200 is much too low.”

Johnson also criticized Guttmacher for minimizing the significance of 2,200 partial-birth abortions. “It is unbelievably callous to dismiss the killing of 2,200 mostly delivered babies as ‘rare.’ If a virus was killing 2,200 pre-mature infants, we’d call it an epidemic.”

In 1997, Ron Fitzsimmons, the executive director of the National Coalition of Abortion Providers, publicly repudiated the claim that the partial-birth abortion procedure was used rarely, and mostly in acute medical situations. He admitted it was the “party line.”

Fitzsimmons estimated that 4,000-5,000 abortions are committed annually by the partial-birth method.

The American Life League, however, says the focus on partial-birth abortion distracts the pro-life movement from the larger issue.

In a March 13 press release, ALL president Judie Brown said that her organization did not support the legislation because by limiting one type of abortion, it legitimizes the others.

“Over the past eight years,” Brown said, “the debate over partial birth abortion legislation has sidetracked the primary goals of the pro-life movement, overturning the Roe v. Wade decision and passing a Human Life Amendment.”

However, Brown added, the partial-birth abortion debate exposed “much of the truth about the horrors of abortion … We hope to build on this, by educating people to the insidious nature of all abortions and moving forward to overturn its legalization.”