Acting to protect women's health, the National Abortion Federation, Dr. LeRoy Carhart, and several other physicians joined legal challenges today seeking to block a dangerous and deceptive ban on safe abortion procedures.
The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit in a federal court in New York on behalf of the National Abortion Federation, the professional association of abortion providers whose members care for more than half of the women who choose abortion each year in the United States. The Center for Reproductive Rights filed a separate lawsuit in a federal court in Nebraska on behalf of Dr. Carhart, the lead plaintiff in the United States Supreme Court case that struck down an essentially identical ban in 2000. That case, Stenberg v. Carhart, was successfully argued by the Center for Reproductive Rights.
"I am challenging this new federal ban for the same reasons I challenged the Nebraska abortion ban: it is an attack on women's right to obtain safe abortions," said Dr. Carhart. "As a doctor, it is my duty to use the safest procedures I have available once a patient decides to terminate her pregnancy. By signing this ban President Bush will put my patients' health, reproductive abilities and very lives at risk."
The challenged law is the first federal ban on abortion practice. Since 1995, thirty-one states have enacted bans on so-called "partial-birth abortions." In every state where the bans have been challenged, the courts have declared them unconstitutional. In 2000 when the Supreme Court struck down Nebraska's ban, it did so because it lacked an exception to protect women's health, and it prohibited several abortion procedures, including the method most commonly used in the second trimester, before fetal viability.
"Outlawing safe medical procedures would force doctors to choose between providing their patients with the best and most appropriate care, or going to jail," said Vicki Saporta, President and CEO of the National Abortion Federation. "We cannot allow women's health to be compromised by politicians who are not qualified to make medical decisions."
"The U.S. Supreme Court struck down Nebraska's ban because it recognized how broad and dangerous the measure was," said Nancy Northup, President of the Center for Reproductive Rights. "The ban before us today suffers from the same fatal constitutional flaws, threatens women's health and lives, and is a direct challenge to the authority of the Supreme Court."
Though proponents of the ban claim that they have addressed the constitutional concerns raised by the Supreme Court, the plain language of the Act makes clear that it prohibits the safest and most common abortion procedures used after the first trimester of pregnancy, and it does not include a health exception.
"This deceptive and extreme measure sacrifices women's health in the name of a broad anti-choice agenda to demonize abortion," said Louise Melling, Director of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project. "The federal government has no business making it a crime for doctors to provide the best care possible to women who need abortions."
The ACLU filed its case in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York on behalf of the National Abortion Federation and several individual physicians. Lawyers on the case include Talcott Camp of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, Rebekah Diller of the New York Civil Liberties Union, Lorie Chaiten of the ACLU of Illinois, and Kimberly A. Parker of Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering.
The Center for Reproductive Rights filed its case in the U.S. District Court for the District of Nebraska on behalf of Dr. Carhart and other providers. Lawyers on the case include Priscilla J. Smith of the Center for Reproductive Rights and Nebraska attorneys Jerry M. Hug and Alan G. Stoler.