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Foes of new abortion bill file lawsuits to derail it

Published Sep. 2, 2005

Opponents of the congressional ban on a type of late-term abortion went to court Friday, filing three federal lawsuits seeking to block legislation they say threatens the health and constitutional rights of women.

The new law, expected to be signed by President Bush on Wednesday, would ban certain types of abortion procedures on fetuses that are roughly 14 weeks or older, doctors say. Opponents of the procedures call them partial-birth abortions.

"President Bush intends to put the health and welfare of women in jeopardy," said Dian Harrison of Planned Parenthood, whose group announced a lawsuit in San Francisco.

Friday's legal moves were an unusual move by Planned Parenthood, the Center For Reproductive Rights and the American Civil Liberties Union, because the lawsuits were lodged before the measure became law.

"We want the judge to be in a position to issue an order as soon as the bill is signed," said Priscilla Smith, an attorney for the Center for Reproductive Rights.

Smith filed her case in federal court in Omaha, Neb., on behalf of physicians, and the ACLU sought a similar order in New York. Planned Parenthood's lawsuit was on behalf of that group and those seeking such abortions.

The National Right to Life Committee blasted the groups for filing the lawsuits.

"Just in time for Halloween, these groups argue that Roe vs. Wade guarantees the right to deliver most of a living premature infant, in the fifth and sixth months of pregnancy, and then shove scissors through her skull," said Douglas Johnson, the group's legislative director.

The bill imposes the most far-reaching limits on abortion since the Supreme Court in 1973 confirmed a woman's constitutional right to end a pregnancy. Supporters contend it applies only to a procedure done late in pregnancy that is never necessary to protect the health of the mother.

The House approved the legislation Oct. 2, and it was approved by the Senate Oct. 21.

Bush spokesman Scott McClellan said Friday the president believes the procedure is "abhorrent" and is "pleased (the ban) has finally passed Congress."

The new bill defines partial birth abortion as delivery of a fetus "until, in the case of a headfirst presentation, the entire fetal head is outside the body of the mother, or, in the case of the breech presentation, any part of the fetal trunk past the navel is outside the body of the mother for the purpose of performing an overt act that the person knows will kill the partially delivered living fetus."

Under the new law, a similar Nebraska version of which the Supreme Court struck down three years ago, women cannot undertake this procedure even if their health is at risk or if the child would be born with ailments.

Viki Wilson, a Fresno woman, had such a procedure a decade ago. She was at full term when it was detected that her baby's brain was outside the baby's skull.

"I may not have been able to have an abortion under this law," she said in an interview.