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Senate Rejects Birth-Control Drive

March 12, 2003|Richard Simon | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — The Republican-controlled Senate, moving to approve a ban on a controversial abortion procedure, rejected on Tuesday a Democratic proposal for a national campaign to reduce unintended pregnancies by raising public awareness about the "morning-after" pill.

The vote came during the second day of an emotionally charged debate on legislation that would ban the procedure described by abortion opponents as "partial-birth" abortion.

The Senate refused to consider a measure that would have funded a $40-million campaign to educate women about the availability of emergency contraception -- sometimes called a morning-after pill -- and expanded private health insurance coverage for contraceptives. The morning-after pill consists of a high dose of female hormones that can help prevent pregnancy when taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex.

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), who sponsored the "morning-after" measure, challenged supporters of the "partial-birth" abortion ban to demonstrate "a real commitment to reducing abortion" by supporting a birth-control campaign that would help prevent unintended pregnancies and abortions. But supporters of the late-term abortion ban blocked Murray's measure on procedural grounds. The vote was 49 to bring the measure up for consideration and 47 against, well short of the 60 votes required. Three Democrats joined the majority of Republicans in opposing the measure. Six Republicans -- mostly moderates -- joined most Democrats and one independent in supporting the measure.

Immediately after the vote, NARAL Pro-Choice America, formerly known as the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, declared that "if anti-choice forces were really interested in fewer abortions, they would support measures to reduce unintended pregnancies. Their real mission is to end legal abortion by criminalizing one abortion procedure after another."

Although Congress is expected to approve the bill -- and President Bush has said he will sign it -- both sides expect to carry their battle to the Supreme Court.

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