US votes to ban partial birth abortion
America's House of Representatives has overwhelmingly approved a ban on "partial birth" abortions, putting the pro-life movement on the brink of its biggest victory in years.
The 282-139 vote still leaves some minor issues to iron out, following the passage of a slightly different ban in the Senate in March. However, commentators believe it is just a matter of time before the legislation reaches the desk of George Bush, who has called it "morally imperative and constitutionally permissible".
Mr Bush, long known for his strong sympathies with the anti-abortion movement and other causes of the Christian right, said the law would "help build a culture of life in America".
He also urged Congress to forward him the final bill as fast as possible, so that he could sign it into law.
Some suggest however that this will lead to an epic US supreme court battle as pro-choice activists and some in the medical community gearing up to challenge the ban.
"When the president signs it, we will immediately go to court to have it enjoined," said Vicki Saporta of the National Abortion Federation.
About 30 states, also under the influence of the religious right, have previously attempted to ban "partial birth" abortions, but have been told twice by the Supreme Court.
According to medical experts, including the American College of Gynaecologists and Obstetricians, the third-trimestre procedure, known in technical terms as "dilation and extraction", is rare and almost always performed either to protect the mother's health or to spare her the trauma of continuing a pregnancy when the child is severely deformed and likely to die shortly after birth.
Anti-abortion activists describe the procedure as barbaric. Congressman Christo- pher Smith of New Jersey said: "We have lived in denial of the violence of abortion for too long. Today, we can stop some of this violence against children."
The campaign has been high on the political agenda since a new generation of more right-wing, religiously inspired Republicans swept into Congress in the 1994 mid-term elections. The ban was approved twice in the 1990s but vetoed by President Bill Clinton.
It surfaced again last year, but did not make it past the Senate's then Democratic leadership.