But Congress should sustain the veto.
The bill does not provide an exception for women whose health is at risk, and it would be virtually unenforceable.
I write this as a Jesuit priest who agrees with Vatican II, which said abortion is virtually infanticide, and as a lawyer who wants the Clinton administration to do more to carry out its pledge to make abortions rare in this country.
The bill the president vetoed would not reduce the number of abortions, but would allow federal power to intrude into the practice of medicine in an unprecedented way. It would also detract from the urgent need to decrease abortions, especially among unwed teen-agers.
The Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act passed the House by 286 to 129, and 290 votes are required to override the veto. It cleared the Senate by 54 to 44. Though it seems unlikely that 13 of the 44 votes would change, all bets are off in an election year.
More than 95 percent of all abortions take place before 15 weeks. Only about one-half of 1 percent take place at or after 20 weeks. If a woman has carried a child for five months, it is extremely unlikely that she will want an abortion.
The three procedures available for later abortions are complicated and can be dangerous. The vetoed bill would have criminalized only one -- a technique called dilation and extraction -- that medical experts say is the safest of the three.
The bill calls this procedure a 'partial birth,' a term that experts reject as a misnomer. Indeed, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists supported the veto.
Clinton said he would sign a bill regulating late-term abortions if it provided an exception for women whose health might be at risk if they did not have the procedure. As the bill stands, the abortion would be allowed only if a woman might die without it.
Clinton is serious. As governor of Arkansas, he signed a bill prohibiting late abortions except for minors impregnated by rape or incest or when the woman's life or health is endangered.
In any case, a conviction would be difficult to obtain if the bill became law. Legal experts say that doctors could argue that the language was too vague for a measure that imposed criminal sanctions. And juries might be reluctant to convict a doctor who aborted a fetus that was likely to be stillborn or in cases where the woman's health or ability to have children was in jeopardy.
The bill would also sanction intrusive enforcement by requiring federal officials to keep informed about doctors who performed late-term abortions. The FBI would be authorized to tell health aides that they had a duty to tell officials about illegal late abortions.
If Congress were serious about getting a law on the books limiting late abortions, it would include the woman's health as justification for the late-term procedure. But it seems more intent on using Clinton's veto as a political weapon.
This will poison the campaign and inhibit a larger discussion about real strategies to reduce abortions.
In "Posturing on Abortion" (Op-Ed, June 4), Robert F. Drinan says that President Clinton is "serious" about limiting abortions, but the abortion industry has not suffered so much as a slight inconvenience since the President took office.
As a lawyer, Father Drinan well knows that President Clinton's insistence on an exception for the "health" of the mother is a cynical means of obtaining abortion on demand, since the courts have construed a health exception to mean virtually any proffered justification. Father Drinan claims that the effort to criminalize only one of the three methods of late-term abortion is motivated by the desire to use President Clinton's veto as a political weapon, with the result that it will "poison the campaign."
As a former politician, Father Drinan understands that to change public attitudes and build a political majority sometimes requires focusing on the most egregious violations of civil rights, even though the evil will not entirely be extirpated. The Congressional hearings on the so-called partial-birth abortion procedure showed that in some cases this procedure was chosen because the fetuses had Down syndrome.
Father Drinan describes himself as "a Jesuit priest who agrees with Vatican II, which said that abortion is virtually infanticide." He should in fairness describe himself as at odds with the united stand taken by the American cardinals.
Otherwise, one might think that his is a position that is consistent with that of the Roman Catholic Church.
DAVID K. DEWOLF Spokane, Wash., June 7, 1996