Court to Hear Arguments on Whether an Abortion Ends Human Life

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:06 PM EDT


(CNSNews.com) - A federal appeals court will hear arguments Wednesday in a potentially groundbreaking case that -- for the first time, according to attorneys -- addresses the question of whether an abortion terminates a human being's life.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit in St. Louis will consider a 2005 South Dakota law that requires abortionists to tell women that their abortion will terminate the life of a living human being.

The judges will hear Planned Parenthood's claim that a "statute designed to protect the rights, interests and health of pregnant women violates the abortion doctors' right of free speech," said attorney Harold J. Cassidy, who is representing pro-life pregnancy help centers which have joined the state as defendants in the case.

"Planned Parenthood has argued that the harm to the rights of these pregnant women was outweighed by the alleged harm to the interests of the abortion doctors," he said.

The 2005 modification to the informed consent law holds that an abortion ends "the life of a whole, separate, unique, living human being," and that a mother-child relationship, which exists "during the entire period of gestation," is terminated by an abortion.

The legislation requires doctors to inform women of this, in writing and in person two hours before an abortion, and also to disclose the medical risks of the procedure, including the possibility that it could lead to depression and an increased risk of suicidal thoughts.

A lawsuit brought by Planned Parenthood prompted a lower court to temporarily suspend the law.

The lower court said the legislation infringes doctors' First Amendment rights by requiring them to promote the state's ideology on an "unsettled medical, philosophical, theological, and scientific issue, that is, whether a fetus is a human being."

It is this injunction that the law's supporters are seeking to have overturned. Earlier, a three-judge panel of the 8th Circuit upheld the lower court's injunction, but now the full 11-judge panel will rehear the case.

The Family Research Council last month filed a friend-of-the-court brief, challenging the standing of Planned Parenthood, as abortion providers, to challenge the law. It argued that "the interests of abortionists do not align with those of women."

"Someone who has a financial stake in performing abortions should not be allowed to represent women in a case challenging women's right-to-know laws," said Jordan Lorence, senior counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund, which filed the brief on behalf of the FRC.

"Because an abortionist may earn a profit from women who abort their pre-born children, Planned Parenthood should be disqualified from representing the interests of women," he said.

Attempts to get comment from Planned Parenthood of Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota were unsuccessful, but the organization's president and chief executive, Sarah Stoesz, has been quoted as calling the legislation "bad policy, bad politics and bad for women's health."

Abortion-rights activists say South Dakota is among the more difficult states in the nation in which to have an abortion. Nonetheless, South Dakota Department of Health statistics show that more than 26,000 abortions have taken place in the state since 1973.

In November, South Dakota voters rejected a state law banning all abortions, except to save a woman's life, by a margin of 55-45 percent.

Following the defeat at the polls, pro-life lawmakers made another attempt to outlaw abortion in South Dakota, introducing a ban that included exceptions for rape and incest. A state house committee passed the bill, but it was defeated by a state senate panel on Feb. 21.

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Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow

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