DOJ Appeals District Judge’s Decision Declaring Federal Abortion Ban Unconstitutional
The U.S. Department of Justice on Monday filed an appeal seeking to overturn San Francisco-based U.S. District Judge Phyllis Hamilton's ruling that a federal law banning so-called "partial-birth" abortion is unconstitutional, the AP/San Diego Union-Tribune reports (AP/San Diego Union-Tribune, 8/3). In November 2003, President Bush signed the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act (S 3), which bans procedures in which a physician "deliberately and intentionally delivers a living fetus" to the point where the head, or any part of the torso above the navel if the fetus is in the breech position, is outside the woman's body "for the purpose of committing an overt act of killing" the fetus. Under the law, doctors who perform the procedure could face fines and prison sentences of up to two years.
Hamilton's ruling will specifically prevent the Justice Department from enforcing the law at any of Planned Parenthood's 900 clinics, which perform about 50% of the nation's abortions, and it also applies to any Planned Parenthood physicians who perform intact dilation and extraction outside of the organization's clinics (California Healthline, 6/2). Federal judges in New York City and Lincoln, Nebraska, have heard similar cases but have not yet ruled on them, the San Francisco Chronicle reports (Chiang, San Francisco Chronicle, 8/3).
In her decision, Hamilton ruled that the law was unconstitutional because it is too vague, imposes an "undue burden" on a woman's right to seek an abortion and does not include a health exception, the Los Angeles Times reports (Romney, Los Angeles Times, 8/3). Instead of a health exception, the legislation includes a long "findings" section that includes medical evidence presented during congressional hearings that supporters say indicates that partial-birth abortion is never medically necessary (California Healthline, 6/2). In its appeal, DOJ said it would prove that Hamilton had ruled incorrectly in each of the three instances.
According to the Times, the case likely will reach the U.S. Supreme Court (Los Angeles Times, 8/3).