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Senator Collins Rises in Support of Durbin Amendment

Location: Washington, DC

Ms. COLLINS. Mr. President, I rise in support of the amendment offered by my friend and colleague from Illinois, Senator Durbin, to ban all late-term abortions, including partial-birth abortions that are not necessary to save the woman's life or to protect her physical health from grievous harm.

This debate should not be about one particular method of abortion but, rather, about the larger question of under what circumstances should late-term or post-viability abortions be legally available. Let me be clear from the outset that I am strongly opposed not just to partial birth abortions, but to all late-term abortions. I agree they should be banned.

Such a ban, however, must have an exception for those rare cases when it is necessary to save the life of the woman or to protect her physical health from grievous harm. Fortunately, late-term abortions are extremely rare. In my state, according to the Maine Department of Human Services, just five late term abortions have been performed in the last 20 years.

Our amendment goes far beyond, in many ways, what the Senator from Pennsylvania is attempting to accomplish. His legislation would only prohibit one specific form of abortion. In fact, the bill he supports would not prevent a single late-term abortion. Let me emphasize that point. The partial-birth legislation before us would not prevent a single late-term abortion. A physician could simply use another, perhaps more dangerous, method to end the pregnancy.

By contrast, Senator Durbin's proposal would prohibit the abortion of any viable fetus by any method unless the abortion is necessary to preserve the life of the woman or to prevent grievous injury to her physical health.

Those of us who have worked with Senator Durbin on this amendment have taken great care to tightly limit the health exception. Grievous injury is limited to physical health. It is defined as a severely debilitating disease or impairment specifically caused or exacerbated by the pregnancy or an inability to provide necessary treatment for a life-threatening condition.

The Maine Medical Association has said that when "a pregnant woman develops a life or health-threatening medical condition that makes continuation of the pregnancy dangerous, abortion may be medically necessary. In these cases, intact dilation and evacuation procedures may provide substantial medical benefits or, in fact, may be the only option. This procedure may be safer than the alternatives, maintain uterine integrity, reduce blood loss, and reduce the potential for other complications." That is what the experts the doctors are telling us.

Senator Durbin's amendment also includes a very important second safeguard. If the treating physician determines that continuation of the pregnancy would threaten the woman's life or risk grievous injury to her physical health, before the abortion could be performed, a second opinion, in writing, must be obtained from an independent physician. This second opinion must come from a physician who would not be involved in the abortion procedure and who has not been involved in the treatment of the woman.

Unlike the pending bill, which I believe is unconstitutional, the Durbin amendment is consistent with the U.S. Supreme Court's 2000 decision in Stenberg v. Carhart. In Stenberg, the Court struck down Nebraska's partial-birth abortion ban statute because it lacked any exception for the preservation of the health of the woman. The Court reaffirmed its earlier decisions in Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey that abortion regulation must include an exception where it is "necessary, in appropriate medical judgment, for the preservation of the life or health of the woman."

The Durbin amendment is a fair and compassionate compromise on this extremely difficult issue. It would ensure that all late-term abortions—including partial-birth abortions—are strictly limited to those rare and tragic cases where the life or the physical health of the woman is in serious jeopardy. This amendment presents an unusual opportunity for both "pro-choice" and "pro-life" advocates to work together on a reasonable approach, and I urge our colleagues to join us in supporting it.

I yield the floor.

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