First-Ever Federal Abortion Ban Prohibits Safe, Medically Appropriate Abortions As Early As 13 Weeks in Pregnancy, ACLU Says as Trial Opens

March 29, 2004 12:00 am

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Statement of Louise Melling, Director, ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project



NEW YORK — On behalf of the National Abortion Federation (NAF) and several individual physicians, the American Civil Liberties Union begins a four-week trial today in its legal challenge to the first-ever federal abortion ban. This ban, signed into law in November, poses a significant threat to reproductive rights.

The law prohibits abortions as early as 13 weeks in pregnancy, banning a wide range of abortions in the second trimester that doctors say are safe and medically appropriate. Moreover, it endangers women because it fails to include a health exception.

Because this law interferes with safe medical practice, leading medical associations, including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, oppose the federal ban.

Last November, the ACLU brought NAF’s challenge to the ban in federal court to prevent this law from taking effect. We succeeded. NAF members care for more than half of the women who seek abortions in the United States each year and work at clinics, doctor’s offices, and hospitals throughout the country, including premier teaching hospitals.

Recognizing the danger this law poses to women’s health, the court blocked enforcement as the case proceeds. During the course of the trial that begins today, we will establish that the ban impermissibly restricts safe, medically appropriate abortions in the second trimester.

As the medical professionals in this case will testify, the federal abortion ban dangerously interferes with the doctor-patient relationship, preventing doctors from performing abortions in the second trimester that they know are safe and among the best to protect women’s health.

Just four years ago, the United States Supreme Court struck down a similar state ban in Nebraska. In that case, the Court blocked the law because it would have prevented doctors from performing procedures used in more than 90 percent of abortions in the second trimester, and because the ban did not include an exception to protect women’s health. The federal ban suffers from the same two fatal flaws.

We are hopeful that the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York will likewise recognize that the federal ban cannot stand. Like the Nebraska ban, the federal law prohibits a range of abortions as early as 13 weeks in pregnancy, and it fails to protect women’s health.

For more information about the federal abortion ban, go to /reproductiverights/abortion/index.html

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