The Supreme Court Upholds the 'Partial Birth' Abortion Act of 2003

As expected, the Supreme Court upheld the first federal law that prohibits a certain type of abortion procedure. It may be expected, but it is still almost unprecedented that the Supreme Court would rule against three Federal appeals courts, which ruled the law unconstitutional. The ruling also goes against previous Supreme Court rulings on the constitutionality of abortion. Who are the "activist judges' now?

First of all, it is not 'partial birth' if it is done between 12 and 22 weeks. ACOG does not recognize the term. But that's another story.

This decision is infuriating. Loosely interpreted, the law prohibits a fetus from being evacuated if it has a beating heart. But like many laws, there are several ways around it. Going forward, some doctors will inject a drug that stops the fetus' heart before evacuation (a fetus more than 12 weeks old would have a heart). This exposes the patient to a drug that has not been thoroughly studied. This also lengthens the surgical abortion procedure (called a D&E). It does not stop abortions being performed between 12 and 22 weeks, but it does complicate things a great deal.

This is not a small inconvenience for doctors. It impedes their ability to treat their patients effectively and safely. This is not a small setback for abortion rights. In terms of logistics and medical procedures, it is the biggest setback to abortion rights since they were ruled constitutional in 1973. Parental notification bills, or laws requiring doctors to tell patients about medical risks or adoption options pale in comparison with a law that directs doctors to treat their patients differently. Putting the Federal government between a doctor and his patient is no laughing matter. We should be outraged that our doctors must now be forced to abandon safe, proven procedures in favor of complicated, unproven ones.

D&E's are not as "rare" as the news reports linked here would have us believe. They are performed daily by doctors on patients more than 14 weeks pregnant. By my fuzzy math, they comprise about 10% of all abortions performed in America. That's 100,000 operations.

This is madness. We have activists, politicians, and judges -most of whom with no medical background- telling doctors how they should be doing medical procedures. They have no idea what they are doing. And soon the proponents of this illogical law will realize that they made surgical abortion more complicated, and possibly put women's lives at risk, rather than reduce the number of abortions. So they will come back again with state laws that further restrict what doctors can do, or more laws that send doctors to prison. We are supposed to be a world leader in medical technology. What have we become?

Those of us on the pro-abortion side need to fight harder to keep it legal. Abortion is a legitimate medical procedure. Pushing it into the hands of illegal clinics and amateurs is not a viable solution. Making it a medical procedure only for the wealthy and well-traveled is not a solution, either. We need to fight back, and fight harder. We are not going back to pre-1973...ever.

They brought it on. We need to do the same.

Supreme Court upholds law banning some abortions
Wed Apr 18, 2007 12:01PM EDT
By James Vicini

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A closely divided U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld the first nationwide ban on a specific abortion procedure, restricting abortion rights in a ruling on one of the nation's most divisive and politically charged issues.

By a 5-4 vote, the high court rejected two challenges to the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act that President George W. Bush signed into law in 2003 after its approval by the Republican-led U.S. Congress.

The decision marked the first time the nation's high court has upheld a federal law banning a specific abortion procedure since its landmark Roe v. Wade ruling in 1973 that women have a basic constitutional right to abortion.

In a defeat for abortion rights advocates, the court's conservative majority with two Bush appointees upheld the law adopted after nine years of hearings and debate. The law has never been enforced because of court challenges.

The majority opinion written by Justice Anthony Kennedy rejected arguments the law must be struck down because it imposes an undue burden on a woman's right to abortion, it is too vague or too broad and fails to provide an exception for abortions to protect the health of a pregnant woman.

The court's four most liberal members -- Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, John Paul Stevens, David Souter and Stephen Breyer -- dissented.

Ginsburg, who called the decision alarming, took the rare step of reading parts of her dissent from the bench.

"In candor, the Partial Birth Abortion Act and the court's defense of it cannot be understood as anything other than an effort to chip away at a right declared again and again by this court -- and with increasing comprehension of its centrality to women's lives," she said.

The upheld law makes it a crime for a doctor to perform an abortion when the "entire fetal head" or "any part of the fetal trunk past the navel" is outside the woman's uterus.

The procedure, which often occurs in the second trimester of pregnancy, is known medically as intact dilation and extraction.

The two cases, widely viewed as the most important of the court's 2006-07 term, had been closely watched as tests of whether Bush's two conservative appointees, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito, would restrict abortion rights. Both voted to uphold the law.

Roberts and Alito as U.S. Justice Department lawyers in the 1980s and early 1990s opposed the 1973 abortion ruling. Abortion was a central issue in their Senate confirmation hearings, when neither Roberts nor Alito would divulge how he would vote on abortion cases.

Abortion rights advocates who challenged the law denounced the ruling.

"This ruling flies in the face of 30 years of Supreme Court precedent and the best interest of women's health and safety," said Eve Gartner of Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

"Today the court took away an important option for doctors who seek to provide the best and safest care to their patients. This ruling tells women that politicians, not doctors, will make their health care decisions for them," she said.

The Supreme Court by a 5-4 vote in 2000 struck down a similar Nebraska law for failing to provide an exception to protect a pregnant woman's health.

But moderate Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who cast the decisive vote in 2000, has retired and was replaced by the more conservative Alito.