WASHINGTON (BP)–The U.S. Supreme Court demonstrated April 23 its recent decision to uphold a federal ban on partial-birth abortion will impact similar state laws.
The justices announced they had rescinded federal appeals court rulings against partial-birth abortion prohibitions in two states and returned them to those courts for their reconsideration. The high court instructed the Fourth and Eighth Circuit Courts of Appeals to apply its April 18 opinion in their re-examination of state bans from Virginia and Missouri.
In that ruling, the Supreme Court voted 5-4 in support of the Partial-birth Abortion Ban Act, a measure approved overwhelmingly by Congress and signed by President Bush in 2003. The law, which is the only restriction on a particular method since abortion was legalized in 1973, bars a technique that involves the killing of a nearly totally delivered baby normally in the fifth or sixth month of pregnancy.
Federal judges invalidated the bans by Virginia and Missouri on the gruesome procedure, and the Fourth and Eighth circuits affirmed those decisions, both in 2005. At the time, the courts were following the principles set forth in the Supreme Court’s 2000 opinion striking down a Nebraska ban on partial-birth abortion.
The high court’s April 18 ruling on the federal ban, which differed somewhat from the Nebraska law, shifted the legal landscape on partial-birth abortion. The justices’ April 23 orders made clear they intend for lower courts to apply their logic on state bans.
In the new high court decision, Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy said the federal ban is not vague and does not impose “an undue burden on a woman’s right to abortion” based on it being either overly broad or lacking an exception for the mother’s health. He said the law does not infringe on the right to abortion established by the high court in 1973, meaning the Roe v. Wade decision remains in effect.
Joining Kennedy in the opinion were Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito.
In a partial-birth abortion, an intact baby normally is delivered 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. The law allows an exception if the mother’s life is threatened.