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Moynihan, in Break With Clinton, Condemns Abortion Procedure

May 14, 1996 GMT

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, D-N.Y., a longtime abortion rights supporter, is breaking with his own party to condemn a controversial late-term abortion procedure as tantamount to infanticide.

In interviews over the past week and a half, Moynihan has become one of the most prominent and influential pro-choice lawmakers to say they would vote to override President Clinton’s veto of legislation to ban what’s been termed ``partial-birth″ abortions.

``It is as close to infanticide as anything I have come upon in our judiciary,″ Moynihan told reporters Friday. ``I would vote to override the veto.″

Moynihan personally opposes abortion, but until now has supported abortion rights.

The Senate voted 54-44 last December to outlaw the procedure unless the mother would otherwise die. Nine Democrats joined with 45 Republicans to vote in favor of the ban.

Moynihan was ill with the flu and did not vote.

Supporters of the ban have a good chance of overriding Clinton’s veto in the House, where the bill passed 286 to 129. However, they are unlikely to prevail in the Senate, where 67 votes are needed.

During the procedure, the fetus is usually extracted feet first, sometimes after the skull is contracted to enable it to fit through the birth canal.

In vetoing the bill, Clinton said Congress was trying to make ``political pawns″ out of women who risked serious health consequences unless they had late-term abortions.

Clinton said it was a ``difficult and disturbing issue, one which I have studied and prayed about for many months.″

Outlawing partial-birth abortions has been a difficult issue for many lawmakers who have supported abortion rights in the past.

Moynihan did not address the issue until an interview with the New York Post published May 3.

``I know it is very rare and I do not claim to have the exhaustive knowledge that an obstetrician would have, but I’m against it,″ he told the newspaper.

New York Rep. Susan Molinari, one of the most stalwart abortion rights Republicans in the House, said she struggled over her decision until the last minutes and finally voted to ban the procedure.

House Minority Leader Rep. Richard Gephardt, a Democrat from Missouri and a longtime advocate of abortion rights, also voted to outlaw partial-birth abortions.

The National Conference of Catholic Bishops has led much of the opposition to the procedure. In an unusually sharp attack, the Vatican condemned Clinton’s veto as an ``incredibly brutal act of aggression″ against human life.

GOP congressional leaders, eager to exert pressure on lawmakers up for re-election, say they probably won’t force a vote on the veto until next month or possibly July.

Republican Party insiders also cited Moynihan’s statements to charge that, while abortion-rights disputes within their party grab the media’s attention, spats on the other side of the aisle go unmarked.

``When Senator Moynihan, who has a very strong pro-choice record and is no doubt a senior member of their party, says this procedure is infanticide and basically says the president is wrong on this one, it gets almost no coverage at all,″ said John Czwartacki, a spokesman for the Republican Conference, an organization of GOP House members.

Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota was in meetings on Tuesday and couldn’t be reached for comment. White House spokesmen did not return calls.

Some abortion-rights advocates said they were taken unaware by Moynihan’s position, but others saw no reason for surprise.

Moynihan has been ``somewhat weak-kneed on the pro-choice issue,″ said James Wagoner, vice president of the National Abortion Rights Action League. ``He’s never been a passionate defender of women’s reproductive rights.″