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Friday, June 04, 2004 - Page updated at 10:13 A.M.
A federal court ruling declaring the Partial Birth Abortion Act unconstitutional reveals the law for what it is: a political maneuver motivated by ideology not science or medicine to diminish a woman's right to choose whether or not to bear a child.
In a 117-page decision issued yesterday, U.S. District Judge Phyllis J. Hamilton concludes the act puts an undue burden on women's choice, fails to provide an exception for the mother's health and uses language that is "impermissibly vague."
The imprecision was intentional. Authors of the 2003 federal law could easily have used medical terms and gestational stage to convey specific procedures. Instead, they left the law open to broad interpretation. As written, the law could potentially encompass all types of second-trimester abortions.
In 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a similar Nebraska law regarding partial-birth abortion. Lawmakers attempted to get around that ruling. They concluded there is widespread consensus medically, morally and ethically that partial-birth abortion is inhumane and never medically necessary.
Hamilton's ruling illustrates how Congress relied on one-sided, inaccurate and incomplete oral testimony leading up to the ban. During the eight years or so the law was under consideration, Congress heard from just eight physicians. Six spoke in favor of the ban. None of them had ever performed the procedure. Testimony in the California case contradicted the assertion the procedure is never medically necessary.
As Hamilton noted, doctors do not even consider so-called "partial-birth abortion" a separate procedure. Hamilton called it a "variant" of a common second-trimester technique known as dilation and evacuation. Each woman's medical condition is different. Doctors should decide which method is most appropriate or feasible.
The doctors who testified on behalf of the government voiced strong objections to certain types of abortions, but had never performed the procedures in question. Doctors who testified on behalf of the plaintiff, Planned Parenthood, had performed the procedures thousands of times. They concluded the procedures are sometimes the safest option for women.
The ruling applies to hundreds of Planned Parenthood clinics and doctors who perform about half of the nation's abortions.
It is a clear victory for those committed to protecting a woman's right to choose.
Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company
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