President Clinton twice vetoed legislation to ban the practice of partial-birth abortion. Following is the letter sent to him by the Cardinals of the United States subsequent to the first veto in April of 1996.
April 16, 1996
President William Clinton
The White House
Dear President Clinton,
It is with deep sorrow and dismay that we respond to your April 10 veto of the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act.
Your veto of this bill is beyond comprehension for those who hold human life sacred. It will ensure the continued use of the most heinous act to kill a tiny infant just seconds from taking his or her first breath outside the womb.
At the veto ceremony you told the American people that you "had no choice but to veto the bill." Mr. President, you and you alone had the choice of whether or not to allow children, almost completely born, to be killed brutally in partial-birth abortions. Members of both Houses of Congress made their choice. They said NO to partial-birth abortions. American women voters have made their choice. According to a February 1996 poll by Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin & Associates, 78 percent of women voters said NO to partial-birth abortions. Your choice was to say YES and to allow this killing more akin to infanticide than abortion to continue.
During the veto ceremony you said you had asked Congress to change H.R. 1833 to allow partial-birth abortions to be done for "serious adverse health consequences" to the mother. You added that if Congress had included that exception, "everyone in the world will know what we're talking about."
On the contrary, Mr. President, not everyone in the world would know that "health," as the courts define it in the context of abortion, means virtually anything that has to do with a woman's overall "well being." For example, most people have no idea that if a woman has an abortion because she is not married, the law considers that an abortion for a "health" reason.
Similarly, if a woman is "too young" or "too old," if she is emotionally upset by pregnancy, or if pregnancy interferes with schooling or career, the law considers those situations as "health" reasons for abortion. In other words, as you know and we know, an exception for "health" means abortion on demand.
You say there is a difference between a "health" exception and an exception for "serious adverse health consequences." Mr. President, what is the difference--legally--between a woman's being too young and being "seriously" too young? What is the difference--legally--between being emotionally upset and being "seriously" emotionally upset? From your study of this issue, Mr. President, you must know that most partial-birth abortions are done for reasons that are purely elective.
It was instructive that the veto ceremony included no physician able to explain how a woman's physical health is protected by almost fully delivering her living child, and then killing that child in the most inhumane manner imaginable before completing the delivery. As a matter of fact, a partial-birth abortion presents a health risk to the woman. Dr. Warren Hern, who wrote the most widely used textbook on how to perform abortions, has said of partial-birth abortions: "I would dispute any statement that this is the safest procedure to use."
Mr. President, all abortions are lethal for unborn children, and many are unsafe for their mothers. This is even more evident in the late-term, partial-birth abortion, in which children are killed cruelly, their mothers placed at risk, and the society that condones it brutalized in the process.
As Catholic bishops and as citizens of the United States, we strenuously oppose and condemn your veto of H.R.1833 which will allow partial-birth abortions to continue.
In the coming weeks and months, each of us, as well as our bishops' conference, will do all we can to educate people about partial-birth abortions. We will inform them that partial-birth abortions will continue because you chose to veto H.R. 1833.
We will also urge Catholics and other people of good will -including the 65% of self-described "pro-choice" voters who oppose partial-birth abortions--to do all that they can to urge Congress to override this shameful veto.
Mr. President, your action on this matter takes our nation to a critical turning point in its treatment of helpless human beings inside and outside the womb. It moves our nation one step further toward acceptance of infanticide. Combined with the two recent federal appeals court decisions seeking to legitimize assisted suicide, it sounds the alarm that public officials are moving our society ever more rapidly to embrace a culture of death.
Writing this response to you in unison is, on our part, virtually unprecedented. It will, we hope, underscore our resolve to be unremitting and unambiguous in our defense of human life.
Cardinal Joseph Bernardin
Archbishop of Chicago
Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua
Archbishop of Philadelphia
Cardinal James Hickey
Archbishop of Washington
Cardinal William Keeler
Archbishop of Baltimore
Cardinal Bernard Law
Archbishop of Boston
Cardinal Roger Mahony
Archbishop of Los Angeles
Cardinal Adam Maida
Archbishop of Detroit
Cardinal John O'Connor
Archbishop of New York
Most Rev. Anthony Pilla
President, National Conference of Catholic Bishops
Printed with permission from Priests for Life.