The Senate voted unanimously Sept. 17 to send its version of a partial-birth abortion ban to conference, and along the way watched two senators revive a longstanding debate about the merits of Roe v. Wade.
By a vote of 93-0 the Senate sent its version of a partial-birth abortion ban to a conference with the House of Representatives, which had already passed its version and sent it to conference. When the House and Senate pass bills with different language, a conference is called to work out the differences.
"We as a Senate, members of Congress, should listen to the American people, but more importantly ... we need to listen to our own conscience," Sen. Mike DeWine, R.-Ohio, who is for the ban, said on the floor.
The Senate version has an amendment that pro-lifers want to see stripped -- an affirmation of support for the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling. Although it is nonbonding, it is nevertheless offensive to many senators and representatives who oppose abortion.
Pro-life senators said the vote Sept. 17 was a procedural one used simply to get the Senate version to the conference. They promised that the language would be stripped, according to The Washington Times. But pro-choice senators said the vote was a sign that the Senate supports the Roe v. Wade decision.
Partial-birth abortion is a procedure used in the later stage of a pregnancy in which the baby is delivered feet first so that its head stays in the birth canal. Its head is then cut open and its brain sucked out.
Sens. Rick Santorum, R.-Pa., and Barbara Boxer, D.-Calif., provided the day's highlight with a civil yet passionate debate about abortion. The two have tangled before on the Senate floor.
Santorum, one of the staunchest social conservatives in the Senate, said the day will come when Roe v. Wade is viewed in the same light as the 1857 Dred Scott case that ruled slaves were property.
"I refer to Roe v. Wade as Dread Scott II because it is exactly the same principle upon which Dred Scott was decided," he said. "Dred Scott was decided saying that the rights of a human being were subject to the rights of another person."
Santorum then compared the arguments of pro-choicers with those who supported slavery.
"We sort of remove ourselves from having any moral overtones in this debate [by saying,] 'Well, we shouldn't make this decision. Let somebody else make this decision. Well, I personally am opposed to slavery, but who am I to tell a slaveholder they shouldn't have a slave? I personally would never own a slave. I personally would never condone abortion.'
"It's the same issue," he concluded.
Those who say the Senate shouldn't be making moral decisions are on shaky ground, he said.
"Name me one vote that we have here that does not have some moral implication," he said. "Every single one does -- from who we tax to who we regulate. There is a moral component to everything we do here. We can't run from that."
Boxer acknowledged that morality is intertwined in legislation but disagreed with his conclusion. She asserted that if partial-birth abortion is outlawed, women who need the procedure will suffer because there is no health exception. Supporters of the ban say such an exception will render the bill useless because doctors could argue that every pregnancy threatens a woman's health.
"Oh yes, I support laws that are moral," she said. "My colleague is absolutely correct. There is morality in everything we do. ... Abortion is a moral issue, you bet it is. And I felt that the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973 took a moral stand."
Banning partial-birth abortion is immoral, Boxer said.
"What I think is immoral is to take your views ... or my views ... and force them on the people of this country," she said. "It is disrespectful, it isn't right and it isn't what America is about."
Santorum said the Roe v. Wade decision was the embodiment of a "me first" generation. He read the preamble of the Constitution, where it states that the Constitution was written, in part, to "promote the general welfare."
"The greatest injustice was Roe v. Wade, where it says, 'I am the law, I decide. ... Me. I come first.' That is not the vision of the miracle at Philadelphia," he said.
The nation's founders did not wish to create "me first rights," he said. "We have lost our way, and there is no better example of how lost we are than this decision."