Thu, Jun 03, 2004 - Page 7 News List

US partial-birth abortion ban found unconstitutional

REUTERS , SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA

A federal judge in San Francisco on Tuesday declared unconstitutional a law banning what critics call "partial birth abortions," saying the measure was too vaguely worded and placed an undue burden on abortion rights.

US District Court Judge Phyllis Hamilton said the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003 was also unconstitutional because it lacked an exemption to protect a mother's health.

The decision was hailed by pro-abortion rights groups who saw the law as a first step toward restricting abortions and removing a safe option for some seriously ill women.

But 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.

Marc Racicot, chairman of the George W. Bush-Dick Cheney election campaign, said, "Today's tragic ruling upholding partial-birth abortion shows why America needs judges who will interpret the law and not legislate from the bench."

Bush signed the law on Nov. 5 last year, criminalizing a procedure that doctors call intact dilation and extraction and critics call partial-birth abortion. The procedure may involve partially removing a fetus from its mother's womb to terminate it.

If the ban ultimately withstands the legal challenges, it would constitute the first federal limit on a type of abortion since the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court ruling upholding the right to an abortion. Doctors convicted of performing the procedure could be imprisoned for two years.

Hamilton sided with Planned Parenthood in its lawsuit against the federal government, which had defended the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003.

In her ruling, Judge Hamilton barred US Attorney General John Ashcroft from enforcing the law at Planned Parenthood's more than 900 clinics nationwide.

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