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HELENA — Two of Montana's three congressional delegates said Wednesday they are glad they helped Congress finally pass a federal law banning a late-term abortion procedure critics call "partial birth abortion."

But the lone Democrat, U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, said he's disappointed that the federal government is intervening in women's lives.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Senate passed the partial-birth abortion ban that the U.S. House agreed to earlier this month. Sen. Conrad Burns and Rep. Denny Rehberg, both Republicans, voted for the ban while Baucus voted against it.

Burns pointed out that a partial birth abortion bill had twice previously passed both chambers only to be vetoed by President Clinton. This latest bill awaits the signature of President Bush, who has indicated he will sign it.

But Baucus said Congress shouldn't be muscling in between a woman and her doctor.

Some 2,500 abortions are performed in Montana annually and health officials say partial birth abortions account for less than 2 percent or 50 of those abortions. Nationally, late-term abortions account for about 2,500 of the more than 1 million abortions performed in the United States.

The National Centers for Disease Control report that across the country, few abortions are performed after 15 weeks of gestation, while 4 percent of abortions are obtained at 16 to 20 weeks gestation and even fewer — 1.5 percent — are obtained at more than 21 weeks.

A normal pregnancy lasts 40 weeks. Fetuses are generally considered viable outside the womb after 20 to 21 weeks.

The 1999 Montana Legislature passed a state law to ban partial birth abortions, but the law was struck down as unconstitutional by the state Supreme Court. However, in response to this case, the Supreme Court delivered a compromise that bans abortions on fetuses that could be viable outside the womb unless the mother's health or life is threatened.

Three licensed physicians must certify in writing that the procedure is necessary before late-term abortions can be performed in Montana.

Critics of the federal ban say the lack of a health provision for mothers in the federal bill will ultimately lead to its downfall. The U.S. Supreme Court struck down a similar Nebraska law three years ago for lack of a health provision as well as for vague language.

"The most important thing is this is going to court," said Morgan Sheets, executive director of Montana NARAL, an abortion rights organization.

However, abortion opponents say health provisions are used as loopholes by doctors who are willing to perform abortions on women who are into their ninth month of pregnancy.

"The word health is a blanket excuse," said Greg Trude, executive director of Montana Right to Life. "It's based on deception."

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