Ohio’s law banning partial-birth abortions was struck down Nov. 18 by a federal appeals court. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled that such laws must include exemptions for women facing serious mental or physical health risks.
The 1995 Ohio law was the first in the nation to ban partial-birth abortion. Similar laws have been passed by 17 states, and blocked by court action in eight.
Partial-birth abortion is a late-term abortion procedure in which the abortionist pulls the unborn child feet-first through the birth canal, leaving only its head inside the mother. The child is then stabbed in the skull, its brains are suctioned out, and its skull is crushed before completing delivery. Bills to ban the brutal procedure have drawn support even from lawmakers who generally support abortion.
The appeals court ruled that the law went too far in covering the second trimester of pregnancy, a time in which courts have allowed only limited restrictions on abortion. States have more power to protect unborn children once they reach viability – the point at which they can live outside the womb – but the appeals court said even at that stage states must permit partial-birth abortion when it is needed to keep pregnant women from suffering “severe, irreversible risks of mental and emotional harm.”
The appeals court also said Ohio’s statute was vaguely worded, and could place doctors at risk for using other abortion methods which may resemble partial-birth abortion, but are different. The Ohio law bans “the termination of a human pregnancy by purposely inserting a suction device into the skull of a fetus to remove the brain” – a description that covers partial-birth abortion, but could also cover other methods.
Federal legislation uses a different definition for partial-birth abortion, defining it as “an abortion in which the person performing the abortion partially vaginally delivers a living fetus before killing the fetus and completing the delivery.”
Congress has voted to ban the procedure twice, and each time the ban has been vetoed by President Clinton, who has insisted that exceptions are needed for cases where the “health” of the mother is at risk. Abortion foes note that courts have defined “health” so loosely as to include minor concerns such as stress or discomfort, and argue that a health exemption would render the ban meaningless.
– E.P. News