US Supreme Court upholds ban on partial-birth abortion

June 1, 2007

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The highest court in the nation overturned three appeals court rulings to reinstate a 2003 federal law banning so-called partial-birth abortions. The law, known as the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act (S. 3), prohibits "an abortion in which a physician deliberately and intentionally vaginally delivers a living, unborn child's body until either the entire baby's head is outside the body of the mother, or any part of the baby's trunk past the navel is outside the body of the mother and only the head remains inside the womb, for the purpose of performing an overt act that the person knows will kill the partially delivered infant," reported American Health Line (4/19/2007). Any physician who performs this banned procedure-better known as a dilation and evacuation-could face criminal prosecution, fines, and jail time for up to 2 years.

The law came under judicial scrutiny after lawsuits were filed, alleging that the federal ban was unconstitutional because it did not provide an exception for procedures performed to protect the health of the pregnant woman. This allegation was dismissed by five of the Supreme Court justices. "The law need not give abortion doctors unfettered choice in the course of their medical practice," wrote Justice Anthony Kennedy in the majority opinion, adding, "the medical uncertainty over whether the act's prohibition creates significant health risks provides a sufficient basis to conclude... that the act does not impose an undue burden."

In the dissenting opinion, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, joined by three other justices, said that the solution approved by the high court is "not to require doctors to inform women adequately of the different procedures they might choose and the risks each entails. Instead, the court shields the women by denying them a choice in the matter."