Trials on ‘Partial-Birth’ Abortion Ban Begin in Three Cities
Trials to determine the constitutionality of the federal ban on so-called "partial-birth" abortion began on Monday in federal courts in San Francisco, New York City and Lincoln, Neb., the San Francisco Chronicle reports (Egelko, San Francisco Chronicle, 3/30). President Bush in November 2003 signed the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, which bans procedures in which a physician "'deliberately and intentionally delivers a living fetus' to the point where either the head -- or if in a breech position any part of the torso above the navel -- is outside the woman's body 'for the purpose of committing an overt act of killing' the fetus," the Los Angeles Times reports (Romney/Goldman, Los Angeles Times, 3/30). Immediately after Bush signed the measure into law, federal judges in California, New York and Nebraska issued temporary restraining orders to prevent Department of Justice enforcement of the ban. (California Healthline, 11/6/03). The judges issued the restraining orders in response to lawsuits filed by Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the National Abortion Federation and the Center for Reproductive Rights. Each of the lawsuits alleges that the law is unconstitutional because of the absence of a health exception (Los Angeles Times, 3/30).
The San Francisco trial opened with testimony from Dr. Maureen Paul, medical director of Planned Parenthood Golden Gate, who said that the federal ban could be interpreted to include events that occur during a dilation and evacuation abortion procedure, which is "by far" one of the most common abortion procedures during the second trimester, according to the Chronicle (San Francisco Chronicle, 3/30). "My overriding concern is that if I continue to practice second-trimester abortions in the way that I consider safe for women, I could be in prison," Paul said (Los Angeles Times, 3/30). DOJ lawyer Mark Quinlivan in cross-examining Paul said that there is a "lack of scientific studies" to demonstrate that removing a fetus partially intact is a safe procedure, according to the Chronicle (San Francisco Chronicle, 3/30). Attorney A. Stephen Hut, representing the plaintiffs in the New York trial, said that the law is "so broad" that it could prohibit abortion procedures that "common[ly]" are used in the second trimester, according to the New York Times. Sean Lane, an assistant U.S. attorney, said in an opening statement in New York that physicians will testify in the trial that there is "no situation" in which the banned procedure would benefit a woman's health, according to the New York Times (Saulny, New York Times, 3/30). U.S. District Judge Richard Kopf, who is presiding over the Lincoln, Neb., trial, said during the trial's opening that he "questioned" whether Congress "seriously" considered how banning the procedure would affect women's health, according to the Omaha World-Herald (Tysver, Omaha World-Herald, 3/30). According to legal observers, the Nebraska case is "expected to be a bellwether for future appeals" because of Kopf's familiarity with the evidence, according to the Chicago Tribune (Torriero, Chicago Tribune, 3/30).
Several broadcast programs reported on the federal trials to determine the constitutionality of the abortion ban:
- ABCNews' "World News Tonight": The segment includes comments from Johnson, ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project Director Louise Melling and NAF President and CEO Vicki Saporta (Tapper, "World News Tonight," ABCNews, 3/29). A video excerpt of the segment is available online in RealPlayer.
- ABCNews' "World News Tonight": The program reported on the DOJ's subpoena of medical records from at least six hospitals nationwide, saying that the records are necessary to determine the validity of doctors' claims that the procedures banned by the law are sometimes medically necessary to protect a woman's health. The segment includes comments from Attorney General John Ashcroft, Feldt, privacy rights attorney Bruce Fried and Professor Peter Swire of Ohio State University College of Law (Reynolds, "World News Tonight," ABCNews, 3/29). A video excerpt of the segment is available online in RealPlayer.
- CBS' "Up to the Minute": CBS News legal analyst Andrew Cohen discusses the trials (Cohen/McDermott, CBS, 3/30). The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer.
- NPR's "All Things Considered": NPR's Robert Smith provides an overview of the major arguments presented on the first day of the trials (Smith, "All Things Considered," NPR, 3/29). The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer.
- PBS' "NewsHour with Jim Lehrer": The segment includes comments from Feldt and Sekulow (Warner, "NewsHour with Jim Lehrer," PBS, 3/29). The complete transcript is available online. The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer.