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

October 21, 2003 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – The American Civil Liberties Union decried the Senate’s final passage today of the so-called “Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003,” calling the bill a deceptive and dangerous measure that sacrifices women’s health and rights for political gain. The ACLU said it plans an immediate legal challenge to the ban to protect women and their doctors.

“Misinformation has paved the way for passage of this bill from the beginning,” 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 safe abortion procedures used well before fetal viability, including the procedure used for the overwhelming majority of abortions after the first trimester.”

The ACLU will file a lawsuit challenging the ban on behalf of the National Abortion Federation, the professional association of abortion providers in North America. 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 last month to resolve minor differences in House- and Senate-passed versions of the ban. The committee made insignificant changes to the bill. The Senate passed the committee version today by a 64 to 34 vote. The House passed the committee version on October 2nd. President Bush has said he will sign the bill 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 most abortions after the first trimester, and because it failed to include a health exception. The federal ban passed today suffers from the same two fatal flaws, the ACLU said.

“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 make criminals of 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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