March 12, 2003
UNANIMOUS CONSENT AGREEMENT EXECUTIVE CALENDAR NO. 38
Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, the Republican leadership is wrong to ask the Senate to support legislation that has been ruled unconstitutional by numerous courts. Since the last debate in the Senate in 1999, the Supreme Court found a very similar law enacted by the State of Nebraska to be unconstitutional. This bill is unconstitutional as well.
The Republican leadership has chosen to make as its top priority a flatly unconstitutional piece of legislation at a time when so many families across the country are facing economic hardship, when communities are struggling to deal with homeland security needs, and being forced by state budget crises to cut back on education and health care.
Because of the Republican leadership's decision to act on this bill, we will do nothing this week to provide an economic stimulus plan for the Nation's families and workers. We will do nothing to provide new funding for communities struggling to protect themselves from new terrorist attacks. We will do nothing to help the millions of uninsured children in this country get the health care they need. We will do nothing for schools struggling to meet higher standards under the No Child Left Behind Act. We will do nothing to help college students struggling to pay tuition and relieve their debt. We will do nothing to help the millions of families across the Nation who are worried about their economic future.
Let us be clear as to what this bill does not do.
This bill does not stop one single abortion. The proponents of this bill distort the law and the position of our side with inflammatory rhetoric, while advocating a bill that will not stop one single abortion. This bill purports to prohibit a medical procedure that is only used in rare and dire circumstances. It is not used on healthy mothers carrying healthy babies. And if this bill is passed, a doctor could be forced to perform another, more dangerous procedure if it becomes necessary to terminate a pregnancy to protect the life and health of a woman.
This bill does not protect the health of the mother. Nowhere is there language that would allow a doctor to take the health of the mother into consideration, even if she were to suffer brain damage or otherwise be permanently impaired if the pregnancy continued.
And this bill is not needed to protect the life of babies who could live outside the mother's womb because those babies are already protected under the law of the land. In Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court specifically held that unless there was a threat to the life or health of a woman, she did not have a constitutional right to terminate a pregancy after viability.
So what is this legislation all about? It is about politics and inflammatory language and hot-button topics. But it is not about stopping abortion.
Because of the sound and fury and high emotion that surrounds this issue, I would like to make my personal views clear. I am pro-choice. But I believe that abortions should be rare. I believe that we have an obligation to create an economy and the necessary support systems to make it easier for women to choose to bring children into the world. If the proponents of this legislation were serious about limiting the number of abortions in this country, then we would be debating access to health care, quality education, the minimum wage, and the other issues of economic security that are so important to parents bringing up children. But those issues are not on the Republican leadership's agenda.
Instead, for rank political reasons, we are here this week debating so-called partial birth abortion. I do not believe that it is the role of the United States Senate to interfere with or regulate the kind of medical advice that a doctor can give to a patient. And that doctor/patient relationship and the protection of the health of the mother is really what is in jeopardy with this legislation.
From the time of the 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade through the Stenberg v. Carhert decision in 2000, the Supreme Court of the United States has made clear that the Constitution allows states to restrict post-viability abortions as long as there are protections for the life and health of the mother.
Indeed, 41 states already ban post-viability abortions, regardless of the procedure used. My own State of Massachusetts prohibits these abortions except when the woman's life is in danger or the continuation of the pregnancy would impose a substantial risk of grave impairment of the woman's health. I would vote for a post-viability ban that protects women's life and health today.
The role of the United States Senate is to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. Each of us in this body has taken that oath of office. And that oath of office and the Constitution require me to oppose this legislation.
This bill unconstitutionally seeks to restrict abortions in cases before viability and it does not provide an exception to protect the mother's health after viability. It also impermissibly attempts to interfere with the doctor/patient relationship. For all of these reasons, I oppose this bill.