WASHINGTON (AP) – The Senate voted overwhelmingly yesterday to ban a procedure that critics call partial birth abortion, and conservatives confidently predicted the bill would soon be signed into law after an eight-year struggle.

“This is a heinous act. It is immoral. It is wrong and it is simply something a civilized society should not tolerate,” Sen. Michael DeWine (R-Ohio) said after the bipartisan 64-33 vote to limit the range of procedures available to women under the 1973 landmark Supreme Court abortion rights ruling.

The Senate’s action cleared the way for expected House passage this spring. President Bush has said he will sign the measure, a revised version of bills that former President Clinton twice vetoed as unconstitutional.

“Partial birth abortion is an abhorrent procedure that offends human dignity, and I commend the Senate for passing legislation to ban it,” the president said in a written statement. “Today’s action is an important step toward building a culture of life in America.”

Though outvoted, abortion rights supporters renewed a pledge to challenge the bill in court. “Anti-choice senators simply ignored Supreme Court precedent and voted to criminalize safe abortion procedures,” said Kate Michelman, the head of NARAL Pro-Choice America.

The bill prohibits doctors from committing an “overt act” designed to kill a partially delivered fetus. Partial birth is described as a case in which the entire fetal head is outside the body of the mother, or, in the event of a breech delivery, if “any part of the fetal trunk past the navel is outside the body of the mother.” Sponsors of the legislation say it is used roughly 2,200 times a year, principally during the 20th through 26th weeks of pregnancy.

The legislation includes an exemption for cases in which the life of the mother is jeopardized, but not for general health reasons.

Passage of the legislation was not in doubt in the Senate, and support crossed party lines. Voting in favor were 48 Republicans and 16 Democrats. Opposed were 29 Democrats, three Republicans and one independent. Many supporters of abortion rights began abandoning defense of the procedure years ago – particularly after abortion foes began describing it in graphic detail.

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