Partial-Birth Abortion Opponents 'Cautiously Optimistic'

By Nathan Burchfiel | July 7, 2008 | 8:06pm EDT

( - The U.S. congressman who sponsored the federal ban on partial-birth abortion is "cautiously optimistic" that the Supreme Court will allow the ban to stand when it hears arguments on the law Nov. 8.

Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio) told Cybercast News Service he was hopeful the court would "make the right decision, and that decision will be for life." Chabot sponsored the House version of the Partial-Birth Abortion Act of 2003.

The law bans partial-birth abortion, also called dilation and extraction, a medical procedure during which a baby is partially delivered so the doctor can access its head. An incision is made at the base of the skull and the brain tissue is removed, killing the baby.

In three separate cases, lower courts have ruled the ban unconstitutional. The Supreme Court is scheduled to begin hearing arguments in two of those cases -- Gonzales v. Carhart and Gonzales v. Planned Parenthood -- on Nov. 8.

The ban is similar to a Nebraska state ban on partial-birth abortion that the court overturned in 2000 on a 5-4 decision in Stenberg v. Carhart. The court ruled that ban unconstitutional because it placed "undue burden" on women seeking abortions and did not allow doctors to provide the service they deemed most effective and safe.

Chabot said the federal ban, unlike the Nebraska ban or other federal attempts to ban the practice, was supported by "extensive medical evidence and extensive medical testimony from doctors who say that a partial birth abortion is never medically necessary."

He said the ban's supporters "believe that there is sufficient documentation in the bill itself that the court will have enough to hang its hat on and rule correctly this time and ban partial-birth abortions in this country."

The law itself states that Congress found "overwhelming evidence" that partial-birth abortion "is never medically indicated to preserve the health of the mother" and is "unrecognized as a valid abortion procedure by the mainstream medical community."

Health of the mother

Abortion advocates argue the ban is unconstitutional because it doesn't provide an exception for the health of the mother.

"Every court that has examined the federal abortion ban has struck it down because, among other things, the ban does not protect women's health," the Planned Parenthood Federation of America says on its website.

Eva Gartner, an attorney for Planned Parenthood, said in a release that the ban would "give Congress and states a green light to endanger women's health when they restrict women's access to abortion."

The ban, which threatens a fine and imprisonment for doctors who perform the procedure, does allow exceptions in cases where the abortion would save the life of the mother.

Chabot said an exception for the mother's health would render it a "phony ban."

"The problem with including a health exception," he said, "is that health has been described so broadly by some abortionists that they say every birth has potential complications to the health of the mother, so there really would be no case in which some abortionist wouldn't have enough to justify a partial-birth abortion."

'Safest and best'

Gartner said the partial-birth abortion ban "would forbid doctors from providing their patients with the care they believe is safest and best."

Chabot argues that the procedure is neither safe nor the best treatment. "I believe it's a procedure that's far too gruesome and horrific to continue to be performed on unborn children in this country," he said.

Chabot estimated abortion providers perform 10,000 partial-birth abortions every year. He said congressional hearings found that none of them are necessary to save the life of the mother and that the procedure "could also be dangerous to the woman."

A 2003 report from the Guttmacher Institute, the research arm of Planned Parenthood, estimated that in 2000, the dilation and extraction procedure was performed 2,200 times by 31 abortion providers. It estimated that the procedure accounts for less than one percent of abortions performed every year.

Part of a larger agenda

Another difference between the 2000 Nebraska ban and the 2003 federal ban is the court itself. In 2000, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor provided the crucial fifth vote to overturn the ban.

With O'Connor no longer on the court -- she retired in January 2006 -- abortion opponents are "hopeful" her replacement, Justice Samuel Alito, will swing the vote in favor of upholding a ban, Chabot said.

The Center for Reproductive Rights, the group spearheading Gonzales v. Carhart, worries that laws like the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban are "part of a larger agenda to outlaw all abortions."

Chabot acknowledged that abortion opponents could view a Supreme Court victory as "the first step towards ending other types of abortion," an outcome he called "preferable."

But he said pro-life activists "ought to stay focused on this particular type of abortion right now, and we ought to stop it."

When asked what the next step would be for pro-life politicians if the court overturns the ban, Chabot said, "I'm not even going to think about the possibility of them overturning it again, because I feel good -- and I keep it in my prayers also -- that this court does the right thing."

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