Friday, September 21, 2001

Late-term abortion ban blocked

Judge cites safety as law struck down

By James Hannah
The Associated Press

        DAYTON, Ohio — The state's ban on a controversial late-term abortion procedure was struck down Thursday by a federal judge who said the technique may be safer than others for some women.

        An anti-abortion group attacked the decision as a misinterpretation of the law. The state said it may appeal.

        U.S. District Judge Walter Rice said the law is unconstitutional because it wouldn't allow the procedure to be used when it is safer for a patient. Judge Rice temporarily blocked enforcement of the law last fall and said then it was probably unconstitutional for that reason.

        The dilation-and-extraction procedure, called partial-birth abortion by opponents, involves pulling the fetus partially out of the uterus feet first. The skull is then punctured and the brain suctioned out, causing the skull to collapse and easing passage through the birth canal.

        Denise Mackura, executive director of Ohio Right to Life, said many doctors believe the procedure would never be the safest technique.

        Other methods of late-term abortion include inducing labor and dilation and evacuation.

        “There really is no credible evidence that a woman would ever need to have a partial-birth abortion, that it would be a safer method for her,” Ms. Mackura said.

        Joe Case, spokesman for Ohio Attorney General Betty Montgomery, said the state's lawyers were studying the ruling to determine whether to file an appeal.

        Mary Brigid, executive director of the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League of Ohio, said the ruling “gives support for legal, safe abortion in this state.”

        Of the 37,000 abortions performed in Ohio in 1999, about 2.5 percent of them were late-term — those in which the fetus was 20 weeks or older.

        In his ruling, Judge Rice cited a U.S. Supreme Court decision in June 2000 that struck down a similar Nebraska law. Federal judges also have recently overturned bans on the abortion procedure in other states, including Michigan, Illinois and Wisconsin.

        Under Ohio's ban, doctors who perform the procedure would have been subject to up to eight years in prison.

        A lawsuit challenging the ban was filed before the law could go into effect in August 2000.

        Ohio had argued its law contains an exception that would allow the procedure when necessaryto preserve the mother's life or health.

        But Judge Rice said he found that argument “unpersuasive” because the procedure could be used only on patients who have conditions that would cause them irreversible harm if other abortion techniques were used.

        Dr. Martin Haskell, who filed the lawsuit, operates clinics in Cincinnati, Dayton and Akron.

        “We just think women should have the right with their doctors to decide what to do with their pregnancies,” Mr. Haskell's attorney, Alphonse Gerhardstein, of Cincinnati, said Thursday.


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