Thursday, July 1, 2004

'Partial birth' ban in effect

Appeals Court action clears way to apply anti-abortion law passed four years ago

By Dan Horn
Enquirer staff writer

Ohio's ban on a controversial late-term abortion procedure officially takes effect this week, nearly four years after lawmakers approved it.

The ban on what is known as "partial-birth" abortion has never been enforced because legal challenges have kept it tied up in the federal courts.

But the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals resolved the last of those challenges in December when it declared Ohio's ban constitutional. The Appeals Court issued its official mandate Monday, clearing the way for authorities to begin enforcing the ban.

"It's been a long journey," said Denise Mackura, executive director of Ohio Right to Life. "We are delighted that unborn children in Ohio will no longer be subjected to the partial-birth abortion procedure."

Abortion foes have said Ohio's law is important because it could become a model for similar bans in other states, many of which also have been mired in long legal battles.

Few doctors perform the procedure in Ohio, but one who does, Martin Haskell, sued in 2001 to block enforcement of the ban. The Dayton-based doctor argued the ban is unconstitutional because the procedure may be the safest method of abortion in some cases, even if the mother's health is not in jeopardy.

Haskell's attorney, Al Gerhardstein, said the failed attempt to overturn the ban was worthwhile because the Appeals Court clarified confusing passages of the Ohio law.

Most importantly, he said, the court established that the procedure is permitted if it is the safest method of abortion available, not just if the mother's life is in danger.

The procedure is called partial-birth abortion because it involves pulling the fetus partly out of the uterus feet first. The skull is then punctured and collapsed, and the brain is suctioned out.

Ohio's ban is the second approved by the state legislature since 1997. The first was ruled unconstitutional because it did not include an exception if the mother's health was in danger.


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