Justice supports Ohio in ban on partial-birth abortion
By Amy Fagan
THE WASHINGTON TIMES
February 7, 2002
The Justice Department voiced its support for Ohio's ban on partial-birth abortion this week, filing a nonbinding opinion in a federal appeals court where the ban was being questioned.
Pro-life groups hailed the move as an important sign in the effort to ban partial-birth abortion, while pro-choice groups called it another attack on abortion rights by the Bush administration.
" It's very good news to those of us who are pro-life, " said Rep. Steve Chabot, Ohio Republican and chairman of the House Judiciary Constitution subcommittee.
" It shows that the Bush administration is going to seek a way to move against partial-birth abortion, " said Bill Saunders, senior fellow for human life studies at the conservative Family Research Council.
But Vicki Saporta, executive director of the National Abortion Federation, said it shows that Attorney General John Ashcroft " clearly is advancing his personal political beliefs, ignoring Supreme Court precedent and wasting taxpayer resources. "
The " friend of the court " brief, filed this week in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, offered the administration's arguments as to why the Ohio ban should be upheld.
In partial-birth abortion, an unborn child's body is delivered until only the head remains inside the uterus; the back of its skull then is punctured with scissors and its brain is removed by suction before the rest of the body is delivered.
The Ohio ban was struck down by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, which ruled it did not comply with a 2000 Supreme Court decision, Stenberg v. Carhart.
The Stenberg case overturned a Nebraska partial-birth abortion ban as unconstitutional. The administration brief explained that the court struck down the Nebraska law because it could have extended to another method of abortion beyond partial-birth and because it did not make an exception to protect the health of the mother.
The Justice brief argues the Ohio partial-birth abortion ban " satisfies both of these requirements, " by limiting the ban only to partial-birth abortions and by providing " exactly the health exception required by the Supreme Court. "
But pro-choice groups said the Ohio law is still unconstitutional.
" The health exception isn't strong enough, " said Margie Kelly, communications director for the Center for Reproductive Law and Policy.
" Stenberg was clear that a woman must be able to choose the abortion procedure that is safest for her, " said Miss Saporta. " The Ohio law clearly does not allow her to do that. "
Miss Saporta said the Ohio law " won't pass constitutional muster. "
It is not clear whether the Ohio case will make it to the Supreme Court.
The federal appeals court likely will set a trial date for the case in late March, Miss Kelly said. After the case is decided, the losing side could appeal to the Supreme Court, although the Supreme Court could decide not to take the case.
Mr. Chabot said the administration's brief is " an important and positive sign " for lawmakers on Capitol Hill who still are trying to craft a national partial-birth abortion ban that would pass Supreme Court muster.
Congress repeatedly passed partial-birth abortion bans in the past but was unable to override vetoes by President Clinton. They have not pursued a national ban in recent years in large part because of the Stenburg ruling.