Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Late-term abortion ban illegal

Appeals court decides on Mich. law despite the U.S. Supreme Court's upholding of federal ban.

A federal appeals court Monday upheld a lower court ruling that declared unconstitutional a Michigan law banning what opponents call partial birth abortion.

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously agreed Michigan's Legal Birth Definition Act is unconstitutional despite a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that upholds a federal ban on late-term abortion.

"We certainly are reluctant to interfere with a statute that represents the will of the elected representatives of the people of Michigan," the appeals court said, referring to a 2004 ballot petition initiative.

However, the law "appears to have cast a wide net that would prohibit virtually all methods of abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detectable despite knowing that some of these procedures were constitutionally protected."

Foes of late-term abortion successfully lobbied lawmakers to pass the legislation in 2003, but it was vetoed by Gov. Jennifer Granholm, who said such laws have been declared unconstitutional.

In January 2004, Right to Life of Michigan launched a petition drive to put the legislation before lawmakers without the governor's signature. It was approved by the Legislature but was immediately challenged by Northland Family Planning Clinic Inc., Planned Parenthood and four obstetricians/gynecologists.

A Michigan federal judge declared the law unconstitutional in 2005, in part because of vague wording and because the law did not adequately protect the health of the woman.

The Michigan Attorney General's Office appealed the decision to the federal court because it felt the law was constitutional, spokesman Matt Frendewey said.

Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a federal law, the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003, that bans a procedure that compacts the fetus' skull during the abortion.

Michigan's Partial Birth Abortion Act was broader than the federal ban on late-term abortions, and sought to ban a different abortion procedure that is more commonly used. If passed, this law could have been interpreted to ban most abortions, said Kary Moss, executive director of the ACLU of Michigan.

"The 6th Circuit Court has really reminded the Michigan Legislature that they cannot go beyond what the Supreme Court says can be legally restricted with respect to abortion," Moss said.

Had this law been upheld, there would have been a "tremendous amount of medical uncertainly," Moss said. "It would have led to disarray and chaos and potentially tremendous risks to the health of women in this state."

Anti-abortion advocates were disappointed with the decision but will consult with their legal officials to see whether there is room for an appeal, said Pamela Sherstad, spokeswoman for Right to Life of Michigan.

"We know it's the will of the people to protect children who are partially born," Sherstad said. "We will continue our work until all children are given protection and their right to life."


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