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Abortion Ban Struck Down

A federal judge on Monday struck down Rhode Island's two-year-old ban on partial birth abortions. U.S. District Court Chief Judge Ronald R. Lagueux said the law is unconstitutional.

At issue was the state's attempt to ban the procedure, in which the fetus is almost entirely extracted from the womb before its skull is collapsed.

In his opinion, which the state will appeal, Lagueux said the law was in need of "constitutional pruning" when first written. He said language added by the state Legislature in 1998 did nothing to make the law comply with his reading of the Constitution.

"No amount of government promises can salvage this Act," he said. "This case does not decide whether defendants may proscribe the [partial birth abortion procedure] because this Act bans far more and, not coincidentally, far more than the Constitution allows."

"The Supreme Court instructs that a law this unrestrained and pernicious to the Constitution must be torn out by the roots," he said.

The judge cited four reasons for finding the state law unconstitutional:

  • First, he said the law is "vague" and could be interpreted to cover another abortion procedure which is legal.
  • The law is also unconstitutional because it doesn't make an exception for the health of the mother.
  • The law also does not provide a proper exception for cases when the mother's life is in jeopardy.
  • Finally, the law is unconstitutional because its civil remedies "place an undue burden on a woman's right to an abortion."
Talcott Camp, an American Civil Liberties Union attorney who represents the plaintiffs, said the state law creates a consent requirement allowing the father of the fetus and the woman's parents to sue a doctor for performing a medical procedure in violation of this law.

But, because the law is vague, it's not clear exactly what procedure the law bans.

"There is no one procedure banned by this law," she said. "This isn't a consent requirement for one procedure, this is a consent requirement for abortion."

Camp said Monday's decision continued an "overwhelming" nationwide trend of similar laws struck down.

Partial birth abortion bans have been passed in 27 other states, according to the Center for Reproductive Law and Policy in New York.

Nineteen of those bans have been challenged in court, with 13 permanently blocked. Three have been temporarily prohibited. Two have been limited by a court settlement or by an order of the state attorney general. In nine states, the bans are in full effect.

Dr. Pablo Rodriguez, a director with co-plaintiff Planned Parenthood of Rhode Island, said Monday's decision left him hopeful "that courts continue to uphold the constitutionally protected right to an abortion."

He said there "is no place for the Legislature" in a woman's decision to have an abortion.

Joe Larisa, the governor's xecutive counsel, said the issue is not likely to be resolved until the U.S. Supreme Court takes up such a case. He added Rhode Island could be that case.

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