A controversial form of late-term abortion that some say is needed to ensure the health of mothers is usually not needed for that purpose at all, the American Medical Association board said.

"Except in extraordinary circumstances, maternal health factors which demand termination of the pregnancy can be accommodated without sacrifice of the fetus," the AMA board reported Wednesday on the procedure critics call partial-birth abortion."Although third trimester abortions can be performed to preserve the life or health of the mother, they are, in fact, generally not necessary for those purposes," the report said.

The report is the first-ever AMA paper on the procedure in which a fetus is partially extracted from the birth canal, a hole is cut into the skull and the contents are drained.

It will become official policy of the 300,000-member medical group if approved by its House of Delegates at its annual meeting next month.

Pending in Congress is Republican-sponsored legislation that would ban the procedure unless the woman's life were in danger. Congress passed something similar last year, and President Clinton vetoed it.

Meanwhile, the Senate braced for a showdown over competing bills restricting late-term abortions. The leading sponsor of the Republican measure, Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., predicted his side would defeat a Democratic alternative by Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D. Votes on the competing bills weren't expected until midafternoon.