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U.S. Judge Rules Against Partial-Birth Abortion Ban
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By Jim Christie
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - A controversial ban on late-term abortions signed
into law by President Bush (news - web sites) last year was ruled
unconstitutional on Tuesday by a judge making the first court decision on the
San Francisco-based U.S. District Court Judge Phyllis Hamilton said the law
was unconstitutional because it was vague and posed an "undue burden" on
abortion rights. Hamilton also ruled against the law because it lacked an
exemption to protect a mother's health.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, a Tennessee Republican and a key backer of
the ban, said he was disappointed by the ruling and predicted it would
eventually be overturned.
"I'm very disappointed in the decision today," he told reporters, calling the
procedure of allowing late term abortions "shameful."
Judge Hamilton sided with Planned Parenthood (news - web sites) in its
lawsuit against the federal government, which had defended the Partial-Birth
Abortion Ban Act of 2003. The law also faces separate challenges this month
in federal courts in New York and Nebraska.
In her ruling, Judge Hamilton barred U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft
(news - web sites) from enforcing the law at Planned Parenthood's more than
900 clinics nationwide.
Planned Parenthood doctors also may continue performing the procedure at
clinics and hospitals not affiliated with organization, said Beth Parker, an
attorney representing the organization.
"She very much reaffirms a woman's right to choose," Parker said of
The U.S. Attorney General's office for Northern California was not
immediately available for comment, although legal experts expected that it
would move quickly to appeal the decision and get the injunction lifted.
The National Abortion Federation (news - web sites), the Center for
Reproductive Rights, and the American Civil Liberties Union (news - web
sites) praised Hamilton's ruling, saying they were "pleased that the court in
San Francisco recognized that this ban is a broad attack on abortion
beginning as early as 13 weeks in pregnancy."
Dr. LeRoy Carhart, the lead plaintiff in the Nebraska challenge to the
federal law, said, "The court in San Francisco recognized this federal ban
for what it is: a threat to women's health. The court understood that the
government has no business trying to come between doctors and their patients
and telling doctors that they can't put their patients' health and safety