Ban of abortion procedure won't stop dispute

Sunday, June 15, 2003

NEW YORK -- On one main point, there is agreement: Congress and President Bush are about to enact the first federal law prohibiting an abortion procedure, a milestone in the fight over legalized abortion.

Almost every other aspect of the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act -- even its title -- is bitterly disputed. That's going to continue even after the measure becomes law, though the venue will switch from Congress to court.

Supporters have used words like "barbaric" and "abhorrent" in seeking to outlaw abortions during which the fetus is partially delivered before being aborted. Their principal target is a procedure used mainly for second-trimester abortions in which a fetus's legs and torso are pulled from the uterus before its skull is punctured.

The ban's opponents, including abortion-rights groups and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, say "partial-birth abortion" is a political term, not one in standard medical terminology.

May deter safe procedures

They say the bill is a poorly worded and dangerous intrusion by politicians into medical practice, and that it would deter physicians from using procedures that are -- in some cases -- the safest form of abortion.

The procedure most clearly targeted by the ban is referred to by medical organizations as "intact dilatation and extraction" -- or D&X.

The American Medical Association says the language in the federal legislation is vague and could be interpreted as covering more common, less controversial procedures, including "dilatation and evacuation." Known as D&E, it is the most common method of second-trimester abortion.

Audrey Eisen, a 35-year-old Virginian who underwent a D&E in February, fears the ban would deprive other women of a recourse that she and her doctor considered appropriate after her fetus was found to have a severe chromosomal disorder. The fetus was likely to die in utero or live just a few weeks.

"It's a very tough issue. Because it's tough, it's no place for the government to be making the decision," said Eisen, whose abortion came in the 16th week of pregnancy.

The federal legislation added new language in attempt to be more specific. It allows an exception when the life -- but not the health -- of the mother is at risk.

A doctor violating the law could face two years in prison.

Once Bush signs the ban, abortion-rights groups plan to seek a court injunction barring it from taking effect. The case could end up in the Supreme Court.

On the Net:

National Right to Life Committee:

Center for Reproductive Rights

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