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Nebraska Judge: Abortion Ban Unconstitutional
Neb. Judge: Abortion Ban Unconstitutional
By KEVIN O'HANLON, Associated Press Writer
LINCOLN, Neb. - A federal judge on Wednesday ruled the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act unconstitutional because it does not include a health exception for the woman.
The ruling by U.S. District Judge Richard Kopf of Lincoln followed similar decisions earlier in two other cases.
The abortion ban was signed last year by President Bush (news - web sites) but was not enforced because judges in Lincoln, New York and San Francisco agreed to hear evidence in three simultaneous non-jury trials on whether it violates the Constitution.
The rulings are expected to be appealed to the Supreme Court.
The federal law bars a procedure doctors call "intact dilation and extraction," or D&X, and opponents call partial-birth abortion.
During the procedure, generally performed in the second trimester, a fetus is partially removed from the womb and its skull is punctured or crushed.
The Nebraska lawsuit was filed by New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights on behalf of abortion provider Dr. LeRoy Carhart and three other physicians. Carhart earlier brought a challenge that eventually led the U.S. Supreme Court (news - web sites) in 2000 to overturn a similar abortion ban that was adopted by Nebraska lawmakers.
Carhart and his lawyers said the federal law is vague and could be interpreted as covering more common, less controversial procedures, including "dilatation and evacuation."
Known as D&E, it is the most common method of second-trimester abortion.
The ban was seen by abortion rights activists as a fundamental departure from the Supreme Court's 1973 precedent in Roe v. Wade (news - web sites). It shifted the debate from a woman's right to choose and focused on the plight of the fetus.
Abortion rights advocates said the law was the government's first step toward outlawing abortion.
A total of 1.3 million abortions are performed in the United States each year. Almost 90 percent occur in the first trimester.
An estimated 140,000 D&Es take place in the United States annually, compared with an estimated 2,200 to 5,000 D&X procedures.
Abortion rights supporters argued that a woman's health during an abortion is more important than how the fetus is terminated. They said the banned method is often a safer solution than a conventional abortion, in which the fetus is dismembered in the womb and then removed in pieces.
Last month, U.S. District Judge Richard C. Casey in Manhattan said the Supreme Court has made it clear that a law which prohibits the performance of a particular abortion procedure must include an exception to preserve a woman's life and health.
In June, U.S. District Judge Phyllis Hamilton in San Francisco also found the law unconstitutional, saying it "poses an undue burden on a woman's right to choose an abortion."