Fall 2003

Legislative Update:
President Bush Signs Abortion Act, Court Challenges Follow Immediately

With the Congress likely to stay in session up until the Thanksgiving holiday, still pending are a number of appropriations bills for funding federal agencies and programs in this fiscal year, which began Oct. 1. In addition, the Congress is grappling with a number of other measures of interest to the Section.

One of the most contended legislative actions of the year was the Congress' approval of a bill barring abortions in certain circumstances.

On Nov. 5, the President signed into law H Res 257, " The Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003." The law prohibits doctors from committing an "overt act" designed to kill a "partially-delivered" fetus. It includes no exceptions to the ban even if the woman's or a newborn child's health is at risk. The new law is considered to impose the most far-reaching limits on abortion since the U. S. Supreme Court's 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade, which clarified a woman's right to an abortion generally. Since the signing of the new law, federal courts in several states have stayed its effect following challenges to the Act as unconstitutional. (In 1992, the ABA adopted Section-sponsored policy opposing state or federal legislation which restricts the rights of a woman to choose to terminate a pregnancy (i) before fetal viability; or (ii) thereafter, if such termination is necessary to protect the life or health of the woman.)

Also on Nov. 5, the House passed HR 3214, the " Advancing Justice Through DNA Technology Act of 2003," a comprehensive package that contains measures providing more than $1 billion over the next five years for federal and state anti-crime measures and assistance to states to increase and improve the use of DNA to solve crimes and help prevent wrong convictions of innocent people. A similar bill is pending in the Senate.

Other legislative activity in recent months includes measures involving national security, privacy rights, disability law, and others. For more information about these measures, contact the Section office.

Immigration Law

On Oct. 1, Rep. Flake (R-AZ) introduced HR 3218, the " Failure to Depart Act," providing that an alien's willful failure to leave the United States pursuant to a final order of removal is a continuing criminal offense. The bill was referred to the House Committee on the Judiciary.

National Security

On Oct. 1, Sen. Leahy (D-VT) introduced S 1694, to provide greater oversight over the USA PATRIOT Act. The bill was referred to the Senate Committee on the Judiciary. (In 2003, the ABA adopted Section-sponsored policy opposing efforts to repeal the sunset provision of the USA PATRIOT Act of 2001 and urging Congress to conduct a thorough review of the implementation of the powers granted to the Executive Branch under the Act before considering any extension or expansion of surveillance authority under the Act.)

Privacy Rights

On July 31, Sen. Feingold (D-WI) introduced S 1507, the " Library, Bookseller, and Personal Records Privacy Act," to protect privacy by limiting government access to library, bookseller, and other personal records for foreign intelligence purposes. The bill was referred to the Senate Committee on the Judiciary.

On July 25, Sen. Nelson (D-FL) introduced S 1458, the " Financial Institution Privacy Protection Act of 2003," to provide for enhanced protection of non-public information including health information. The bill was referred to the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs.

Disability Law

On July 23, Rep. Stark (D-CA) introduced HR 2840, the " Workers with Disabilities Opportunity Act," to remove limitations on the period of Medicare eligibility for disabled workers. The bill was referred to the House Committee on Ways and Means.

School Prayer

On Sept. 17, Rep. Murtha (D-PA) introduced HJ Res 68 proposing an Amendment to the U. S. Constitution to provide that nothing in the Constitution be construed to prohibit voluntary prayer in public schools or official public school ceremonies. The bill was referred to the House Committee on the Judiciary.

Civil Liberties

On Oct. 21, Rep. Otter (R-ID) introduced HR 3352, the " SAFE Act 2003," to strengthen protections of civil liberties in the exercise of the foreign intelligence surveillance authorities under federal law. The bill was referred to the House Committees on the Judiciary and Intelligence.

On Oct. 2, Sen. Craig (R-ID) introduced S 1709, the " SAFE Act," to amend the USA PATRIOT Act to limit the use of surveillance and the issuance of search warrants in certain circumstances. The bill was referred to the Senate Committee on the Judiciary.

On Oct. 2, Sen. Kennedy (D-MA) introduced S 1705, the "U nemployment Compensation Extension Act," to prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. The bill was referred to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. Rep. Hays (R-CT) introduced a similar bill, HR 3285, in the House on Oct. 8. (In 1983, the ABA adopted Section-sponsored policy urging the Federal government, the states, and local governments to adopt legislation prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in employment, housing, and public accommodations.)

On July 31, Sen. Murkowski (R-AK) introduced S 1552, the " Protecting the Rights of Individuals Act" to amend Title 18 of the United States Code and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 to strengthen protections of civil liberties in the exercise of the foreign intelligence surveillance authorities under federal law. The bill was referred to Senate Committee on the Judiciary. (In 2003, the ABA adopted Section-sponsored policy urging Congress to conduct regular and timely oversight of FISA and to ensure that investigations do not violate constitutional requirements.)


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