Lawyers for the plaintiffs and for the U. S. Department of Justice presented final oral arguments today before U.S. District Judge Richard Kopf in Carhart v. Ashcroft, the bench trial challenging the constitutionality of the federal "Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003." Judge Kopf indicated that he would reach a decision in the case by August 31.
The Center for Reproductive Rights brought the lawsuit on behalf of Dr. LeRoy Carhart and three other doctors who say that the ban prohibits them from practicing abortion procedures that are safe and among the best for women’s health.
A similar Nebraska ban was struck down in the U.S. Supreme Court in 2000 because it banned safe abortion procedures performed as early as 12-15 weeks of pregnancy, and because it contained no exception for the woman’s health. Dr. Carhart, represented by the Center for Reproductive Rights, was also the lead plaintiff in that case, Stenberg v. Carhart.
"I’m back in court because the government is back in my office, coming between me and my patient and telling me that I can’t put my patient’s health and safety first," said Dr. Carhart. "Sitting in the courtroom, I realized that I had already heard all the arguments that were presented by the government. I’m here to say that I won’t stop my pursuit of justice until I know that I can give my patients the care that I believe is best for them."
Priscilla Smith presented the closing argument for Dr. Carhart and the other plaintiffs. Commenting on the trial, which began on March 29, Smith said: "We have established that this federal law is unconstitutional for the same reasons that the Nebraska law, which we argued and won before the Supreme Court in 2000, was unconstitutional. It bans safe abortions performed as early as 12 weeks of pregnancy, and it fails to make any exception to protect a woman’s health."
"This is a deceptive law whose true intention is to unravel Roe v. Wade," said Nancy Northup, President of the Center for Reproductive Rights. "This law would impose another devastating barrier to the delivery of reproductive health care. It would allow the federal criminal justice system to harass these doctors and invade their patients’ privacy. We will fight this law as long as necessary to keep it from going into effect."
The lawsuit is filed on behalf of: LeRoy Carhart, M.D., a physician licensed to practice in Nebraska, Iowa, Indiana, Kansas, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Wisconsin, William G. Fitzhugh, M.D., a physician licensed to practice in Virginia, William H. Knorr, M.D., a physician licensed to practice medicine in New York, Alabama, South Carolina and Maryland, and Jill L. Vibhakar, M.D., a physician licensed to practice in Iowa.
The defendant is John Ashcroft, Attorney General of the United States.