Supreme Court to hear second partial-birth abortion case


WASHINGTON — The United States Supreme Court agreed June 19 to review a second case involving the federal Partial-birth Abortion Ban Act.

The high court announced it had accepted an appeal from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which struck down the 2003 law. In doing so, the justices will determine if the ban imposes an undue burden on women and is too vague, according to the Associated Press.

The Supreme Court announced in February it would review an appeal from the Eighth Circuit, which invalidated the law based on its lack of an exception for the health of the mother.

The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the cases during its next term, which begins in October. The Ninth Circuit case is Gonzales v. Planned Parenthood, and the Eighth Circuit appeal is in Gonzales v. Carhart.

The high court's action in the Ninth Circuit case "clearly puts all of the issues surrounding partial-birth abortion front and center," said Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice, in a written statement. "The high court not only will determine whether Congress acted appropriately enacting the ban, but the high court also has a critical opportunity to bring an end, once and for all, to the barbaric practice of partial-birth abortion."

The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission signed onto a friend-of-the-court brief filed in May in the Eighth Circuit case in support of the law. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops submitted the brief.

The law bars a gruesome procedure typically used in the fifth or sixth month of pregnancy. In the method, an intact baby is delivered normally feet first until only the head is left in the birth canal. The doctor pierces the base of the infant's skull with surgical scissors before inserting a catheter into the opening and suctioning out the brain, killing the baby. The technique provides for easier removal of the baby's head. One nurse who witnessed the procedure testified in court several years ago as to seeing the baby's hands "clasping and unclasping" and its feet "kicking" before it was killed.

Three different appeals courts at the federal level have ruled the prohibition is unconstitutional, but pro-life advocates hold out hope the January confirmation of Samuel Alito as an associate justice means the Supreme Court will reverse those decisions. Alito replaced retired Associate Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who voted with a 5-4 majority that struck down a state ban on partial-birth abortion six years ago.

After President Bush signed the bill into law in November 2003, abortion rights organizations quickly challenged it in three courts and blocked its enforcement. Federal judges in New York City, San Francisco and Lincoln, Neb., struck down the law. Three-judge panels in the Ninth Circuit, based in San Francisco; Eighth Circuit, based in St. Louis, and Second Circuit, based in New York, upheld the lower court decisions.