WASHINGTON (BP)–A federal appeals court has provided hope that Virginia’s ban on partial-birth abortion may withstand its scrutiny after all.
The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals has decided the full court will reconsider a May decision by a three-judge panel that the state prohibition on the gruesome late-term abortion procedure is unconstitutional. On July 28, the court voted 6-4 for the rehearing, according to the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF).
Oral arguments before the court are tentatively set for the period of Oct. 28-31, said Virginia Attorney General Bob McDonnell, who requested the full court hear the case.
A divided, three-judge panel of the Fourth Circuit invalidated the state prohibition on “partial birth infanticide” May 20, saying it went beyond a 2003 federal law and unconstitutionally restricted the right to abortion. The decision came only 13 months after the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the Partial-birth Abortion Ban Act, a 2003 federal measure that prohibits an abortion technique that involves the killing of a nearly totally delivered baby usually in at least the fifth month of pregnancy.
The same three-judge panel, also in a 2-1 vote, had rejected the Virginia law in 2005.
The U.S. Supreme Court, after its 2007 ruling upholding the federal law by a 5-4 vote, returned the case from the Fourth Circuit to the appeals court for reconsideration in light of its opinion regarding the federal ban. That did not prevent the three-judge panel from striking it down again.
“Virginia has legitimately chosen to protect innocent life from a terrible procedure, and the court is right to revisit the decision against Virginia’s law,” ADF senior counsel Jordan Lorence said in a written statement. ADF has funded friend-of-the-court briefs in the case. “The decision of the three-judge panel conflicts significantly with the Supreme Court’s ruling over a year ago [upholding the federal ban].
“The abortionists pursuing this case show an obsessive devotion to abortion that they think trumps reasonable public policy decisions.”
A partial-birth abortion, as typically performed, involves the feet-first delivery of an intact baby 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.
The case is Richmond Medical Center v. Herring. The Fourth Circuit is based in Richmond, Va.
Compilted by Baptist Press Washington bureau chief Tom Strode.