Virginia: Ban on Abortion Procedures Challenged in Federal Court

The Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) filed a lawsuit in federal court last week to block Virginia’s new law banning so-called “partial-birth” abortion from taking effect on July 1. The lawsuit contends that the Virginia law is vaguely worded and would ban safe and common procedures used in the second trimester. In addition, the group argues that the ban is unconstitutional because it does not include an exception to protect the woman’s health. A similar Nebraska abortion ban was struck down by the US Supreme Court in 2000 for that very reason in Stenberg v. Carhart.

The Virginia law bans what abortion opponents have misleadingly labeled “partial-birth” abortion, a non-medical term referring to a rarely used procedure called intact dilation and extraction (D&X). Though laws such as this one and the federal ban expected to become law this summer claim to ban only D&X, the laws are so vaguely worded that they would prohibit safe and common techniques used in earlier stages of pregnancy. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), which represents over 90 percent of all obstetricians and gynecologists, has called these bans “inappropriate, ill advised, and dangerous.” ACOG states that intact D&X “may be the best or most appropriate procedure in a particular circumstance to save the life or preserve the health of a woman, and only the doctor, in consultation with the patient, based upon the woman’s particular circumstances, can make this decision.”

In fact, abortions in the third trimester are already illegal in Virginia unless the attending physician as well as two other doctors certify in writing that carrying the pregnancy to term will lead to the death of the mother or will severely harm her physical or mental health, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights. Virginia’s abortion ban would also make it illegal for women to obtain pre-viability abortions during the second trimester using the safest and most common method. Despite these facts, Virginia’s attorney general, Jerry Kilgore, claims that “the bill is constitutional and prohibits only the gruesome procedure of killing a child that is only inches away from taking its first breath,” according to the Associated Press.

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CRR release 6/18/03; ACOG statement 2/13/02; CRR fact sheet 7/2002; Associated Press 6/18/03; Feminist Majority Foundation

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