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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Utah Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson, who took a lot of heat from Republicans last year for voting against legislation to ban the "partial-birth abortion" procedure, voted Wednesday in favor of the ban.
Utah Republican Reps. Rob Bishop and Chris Cannon also voted in favor of the ban, which passed 282-139. The bill now goes to a conference committee to work out differences with a Senate-passed version.
When he voted against the ban last year, Matheson objected to the lack of an exception allowing the procedure when necessary to protect the health of the woman.
He said his change in opinion came "after hearing from numerous Utahns, including citizens, religious leaders and medical professionals."
In an interview with The Salt Lake Tribune, he said, "I don't like to characterize this as changing my position. I've always thought this procedure should be restricted. It's just that now I'm prepared to move a step further."
He told the Deseret News that he had become convinced that the people wanted a stricter ban than he originally thought.
John Swallow, the Republican who lost to Matheson in November, told the News, "I'll never criticize someone for voting the right way. I think his vote, for whatever reason it was made, was a vote for protecting late-term babies."
Cannon said passage of the ban was long overdue. "Doctors have said there is never any medical necessity for partial-birth abortion."
Bishop was quoted by the Standard-Examiner as saying, "I find the practice abhorrent and believe the majority of evidence before Congress demonstrates that a partial-birth abortion is never necessary to preserve the health of a woman."
Several abortion rights groups said they would file suit as soon as Bush signs the bill into law.
"Medical decisions should be made by doctors in consultation with their patients, not by politicians who are not qualified to make medical decisions," said Vicki Saporta, president of the National Abortion Federation.
Abortion rights groups say the procedure is rare, occurring mostly in the latter stages of pregnancy when the fetus is discovered to be lethally malformed.
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)