House Passes First-Ever Federal Ban on Safe Abortion Procedures; ACLU Promises Lawsuit to Protect Women and Doctors

October 2, 2003 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – The American Civil Liberties Union decried the House’s final passage today of the so-called “Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003,” a dangerous and deceptive measure that sacrifices women’s health in pursuit of an extreme anti-choice agenda. The ACLU said it plans an immediate legal challenge to the ban to protect women and doctors.

“The passage of this bill represents the legislative process at its worst,” said Laura W. Murphy, Director of the ACLU Washington National Office. “Anti-choice lawmakers have used inaccurate and inflammatory rhetoric to hide the fact that this ban will prohibit proven and safe abortion procedures used throughout the second trimester of pregnancy, well before fetal viability.”

The ACLU will file a lawsuit challenging the ban on behalf of the National Abortion Federation, the professional association of abortion providers in the United States and Canada. NAF members care for more than half the women who choose abortion each year in the U.S. and work at clinics, doctor’s offices, and hospitals throughout the country, including premier teaching hospitals.

A congressional conference committee met earlier this week to resolve minor differences in House- and Senate-passed versions of the ban. The committee made insignificant changes to the bill. The House today passed the committee version 281 to 142, with 12 members not voting. The Senate is soon expected to take up the bill. President Bush has said he will sign the bill into law when it reaches his desk.

The ACLU said the ban in question is effectively no different from a Nebraska law invalidated by the U.S. Supreme Court just three years ago. In that case, the Court struck down Nebraska’s ban because it was written so broadly that it criminalized a range of abortion procedures, including the procedure used to perform the overwhelming majority of abortions after the first trimester, and because it failed to include a health exception. The federal measure suffers from the same two fatal flaws, the ACLU added.

“Lawmakers should not be playing politics with women’s health,” Murphy said. “The Supreme Court has already made clear that these bans endanger women’s health and violate their rights. It is reprehensible for lawmakers to flout this decision and pass laws that will harm women and their doctors.”

Since 1995, in addition to Nebraska, 30 other states have tried to enact similar bans. In every state where the bans have been challenged, the courts have declared the laws unconstitutional and blocked enforcement.

The ACLU has successfully challenged so-called “partial-birth abortion” bans throughout the U.S., including bans in Alaska, Idaho, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, Montana, New Jersey, and Rhode Island, notably winning the first case in the nation to invalidate a state ban.

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