Federal Abortion Ban: A Broad Attack on Women's Health and Rights

Document Date: June 15, 2004

“The reason I brought this action [challenging the federal “Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003] is that I think the Federal Abortion Ban will interfere with my ability to take the best possible care of my patients.”

— Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons and Medical Director of Special GYN Services at New York Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center, April 1, 2004, NAF v. Ashcroft.

“I think [the Federal Abortion Ban] could sweep in many of the second trimester surgical procedures that I do.”

— Assistant Professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Northwestern University School of Medicine, April 1, 2004, NAF v. Ashcroft.

“I brought this action because it was my feeling that the passage and the enactment of this law would do a serious disservice to the patients that I am responsible for. It would eliminate some of the safest procedures to give them care.”

— Chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Women’s Health at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey and Chief of Service of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the UMDNJ-University Hospital, April 7, 2004, NAF v. Ashcroft.

These are the voices of doctors testifying in the spring of 2004 in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, in a challenge to the Federal Abortion Ban brought by the American Civil Liberties Union and Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP, the ACLU of Illinois, and the New York Civil Liberties Union on behalf of the National Abortion Federation and several individual physicians.

Throughout the trial, the doctors challenging the ban made clear that:

  • The law would prohibit abortions as early as 13 weeks in pregnancy.
  • Far from prohibiting one procedure, the law would prevent doctors from performing a range of procedures in the second trimester, abortions that are safe and among the best to protect women’s health.
  • And, because the law makes no exception for women’s health, it would dangerously interfere with the ability of doctors to care for their patients.

On August 26, 2004, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York ruled that the ban “cannot be sustained because it does not provide for an exception to protect the health of the mother.” In addition, the court noted that several of Congress’s factual findings about the ban are unsupported. On October 6, 2005, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit heard argument in an appeal brought by the government. On January 31, 2006, the Second Circuit affirmed that the ban requires a health exception. The Second Circuit also asked for further legal briefing to determine how to remedy the violation but postponed that briefing when the Supreme Court agreed to hear Gonzales v. Carhart.

For more information on legal challenges to the federal ban go to:

A website devoted to all three trials can be found at:

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