Friday, July 28, 2000

Suit aims to block law on abortion

'Partial birth' ban is doctor's target

By James Hannah
The Associated Press

        DAYTON, Ohio — A doctor who performs late-term abortions sued the state Thursday to block enforcement of a new Ohio law that will ban certain late-term abortions and set penalties for doctors who perform them.

        The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court by Dr. Martin Haskell, owner of Women's Medical Professional Corp., a Kettering-based company. Dr. Haskell has clinics in Avondale, Dayton and Akron.

        In May, Gov. Bob Taft signed a bill that makes a crime of “partial birth feticide.” Violators could be sentenced to eight years in prison and face $15,000 in fines. The law is scheduled to go into effect Aug. 17.

        Dr. Haskell's lawsuit says the new law is unconstitutional because it imposes an undue burden on the right of women to choose abortion. It also says the law's vague provisions fail to warn doctors about which procedures are made criminal and that the law is susceptible to arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement.

        The procedure in question, known medically as dilation and extraction, is done in the last three months of a pregnancy. A doctor drains the skull of a fetus before the fetus is fully delivered. Opponents refer to the procedure as partial-birth abortion.

        Dr. Haskell's lawsuit said the law makes no exception even if the doctor believes the procedure is the safest or most medically appropriate.

        “Permitting the law to take effect will prevent patients from seeking and receiving necessary abortion services, force women to obtain more dangerous medical care, interfere with the physician's ability to provide care based on his or her best medical judgments, and force women to suffer grievous physical, emotional and other harm,” the lawsuit states.

        The lawsuit names Gov.

        Taft, Ohio Attorney General Betty Montgomery and Montgomery County Prosecutor Mathias Heck Jr. as defendants. It asks Judge Walter Rice to issue a court order blocking enforcement of the new law and declaring it unconstitutional.

        “We believe Ohio's partial-birth abortion statute is constitutional as currently drafted,” said Todd Boyer, spokesman for the attorney general's office.

        Supporters of the legislation that led to the law said they drafted it as narrowly as possible in order to withstand constitutional challenges.

        “We think Ohio's partial birth feticide ban reflects the common sense and common decency of the people of Ohio,” said Mark Lally, spokesman for Ohio Right to Life. “We expect the attorney general to vigorously defend it.”

        But Shari Zalmon, executive director of the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League of Ohio, called it a bad law because it unduly burdens women in choosing the most appropriate method for dealing with a medical situation.

        “We also feel that this act by the Ohio Legislature is the anti-choice coalition's way of banning abortion procedure by procedure by procedure,” Ms. Zalmon said.

        It's the second time the state has tried to outlaw the procedure.

        A federal judge declared the Legislature's previous ban unconstitutional in 1995. The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that decision, and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case.


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