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LIFE DIGEST: Pro-lifers hope for partial-birth win in N.Y.

WASHINGTON (BP)–Pro-life advocates are awaiting a federal court ruling they hope could uphold a ban on the grisly procedure known as partial-birth abortion.

When judge Richard Casey heard closing arguments in a New York City court, the last of three trials involving the 2003 Partial-birth Abortion Ban Act came to an end. One of the trials already has ended in a loss for the law’s supporters, and invalidation of the ban is expected in another court. Pro-lifers, however, seem at least cautiously optimistic about its chances in Casey’s court.

While abortion doctors were asked in all three trials to describe the partial-birth method and other procedures they utilize, Casey was particularly persistent himself in questioning such witnesses about the methods, the information they provide women about the procedures and possible repercussions, and the pain an unborn child might feel during an abortion. He also ruled in the government’s favor at different points in its effort to obtain records and testimony to defend the law.

“In this case, the government was permitted to provide a full and complete record about why the ban is constitutional and why the horrific procedure is never medically necessary,” Jay Sekulow said in a written statement after the arguments closed June 22. “We’re hopeful that the court will conclude that the ban is necessary and constitutional.

“A decision by the New York court that the ban is constitutional would be an important first step in ensuring that partially born children receive the same constitutional protections afforded to all persons,” said Sekulow, chief counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice.

Federal judge Phyllis Hamilton struck down the ban in her San Francisco court June 1, ruling it was an unconstitutional burden on a woman’s right to abort her child in the second trimester and that it needed an exception for the mother’s health.

It is expected Richard Kopf will also invalidate the law later this summer in his Lincoln, Neb., courtroom. Kopf struck down Nebraska’s partial-birth abortion ban in 1997, a decision that was affirmed by the Supreme Court.

Casey is expected to issue his opinion in the next couple of months.

A final decision by the Supreme Court likely is two years away, said Sekulow, who attended the New York trial and assisted the Department of Justice in its defense of the ban. The decisions must work their way through the appeals process.

The challenges in the courts are to a law President Bush signed in November. The law bans a procedure in which the abortion doctor delivers an intact baby, 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, then inserts a catheter into the opening and suctions out the brain. The collapse of the skull provides for easier removal of the baby’s head. The procedure normally occurs in the fifth or sixth month of pregnancy.

Lawyers for the Department of Justice argued in all three cases that the partial-birth procedure is unnecessary to protect women’s health and results in pain for the unborn child. Lawyers for abortion-rights advocates, meanwhile, contended the ban is too broad and is unconstitutional because it has no health exception.

The Supreme Court’s 2000 ruling against Nebraska’s ban prompted congressional pro-life members to draft a new version that sought to remedy the justices’ declaration that the Nebraska law could be interpreted to cover other abortion methods. Congressional leaders also sought to address the justices’ ruling that the ban needed an exception for maternal health reasons. The new law provides more specific language on the procedure it seeks to prohibit. It also declares in its findings that the method is neither safe for women nor necessary to preserve their health, based on the testimony of doctors. It includes an exception to protect the mother’s life.

Supporters of the ban opposed a health exception because it would have established a loophole that would have left the law with little, if any, power. In its 1973 decisions legalizing abortion, the Supreme Court defined maternal health so liberally it had the practical effect of permitting abortion for any reason throughout all stages of pregnancy.

Unofficial transcripts of the testimony in all three trials are available at the Internet site of the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops at http://www.usccb.org/prolife/issues/pba/pbaban.htm.

BISHOPS ON THEIR OWN -– The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has declined to call for the refusal of communion to pro-choice politicians, instead saying in a recent statement the decision was the responsibility of each bishop.

On the issue of whether the denial of communion to Catholics who publicly support “abortion on demand” is necessary, the bishops said, “Given the wide range of circumstances involved in arriving at a prudential judgment on a matter of this seriousness, we recognize that such decisions rest with the individual bishop in accord with the established canonical and pastoral principles. Bishops can legitimately make different judgments on the most prudent course of pastoral action.

“The polarizing tendencies of election-year politics can lead to circumstances in which Catholic teaching and sacramental practice can be misused for political ends.”

That portion of the statement fell short of what some Catholics desired.

“The American bishops have failed,” American Life League President Judie Brown said in a written release.

“The ‘polarizing tendencies of election year politics’ cited in the bishops’ statement have nothing to do with Catholic teaching and the infallibility of those teachings,” she said. “Christ is truly present in Holy Communion; abortion is intrinsically evil. To somehow suggest that politics alters either of these truths is to suggest that either the Holy Eucharist is really not all that good or abortion is not all that bad.”

Catholic doctrine on communion differs markedly from that of Baptists and many other evangelicals, who do not teach Christ is present in the elements of the Lord’s Supper.

The USCCB statement, which was released at a special mid-June meeting in Denver, affirmed abortion “is always intrinsically evil and can never be justified.” It also said that the bishops will counsel Catholic politicians “that their acting consistently to support abortion on demand risks making them cooperators in evil in a public manner. We will persist in this duty to counsel, in the hope that the scandal of their cooperating in evil can be resolved by the proper formation of their consciences.”

It also said that every Catholic should examine his conscience regarding his worthiness to receive communion, a test that “includes fidelity to the moral teaching of the Church in personal and public life.”

This year, some U.S. bishops have warned Catholic public officials who endorse abortion rights not to seek to take communion in their dioceses. Some bishops also have urged pro-choice voters to support the church’s pro-life teaching or not attempt to receive communion.

In April, Cardinal Francis Arinze, a leading official at the Vatican, said priests should refuse communion to pro-abortion politicians. He said “unambiguously pro-abortion” Catholic politicians such as presumptive Democratic nominee John Kerry are “not fit” to receive communion, LifeNews reported. “If the person should not receive it, then it should not be given,” Arinze said.

A Catholic canon lawyer has brought suit in a church court against Kerry, whose support for abortion rights as a Roman Catholic has been at the center of much of this year’s controversy over the issue.

Marc Balestrieri, an associate judge for the Los Angeles archdiocese tribunal, has filed suit with the Boston archdiocese charging the Massachusetts senator with heresy because of his pro-choice position, according to LifeSite News. The punishment for such a charge, if it is accepted by the Boston archdiocese, could reach excommunication from the church.

“My goal is his repentance, not excommunication,” Balestrieri said, according to LifeSite. “People are saying you can be pro-choice and be a good Christian, that it is not contrary to the faith to support aborted murder. This is a life-threatening heresy.”

MIXED POLL RESULTS –- A recent survey by the Gallup Organization produced a mixed bag of results on life issues. The poll results, released June 22, showed:

— 50 percent of Americans believe abortion is morally wrong, while 40 percent say it is morally acceptable.

— 53 percent say physician-assisted suicide is morally OK, while 41 percent disagree.

— 54 percent believe embryonic stem cell research is morally acceptable, while 37 percent say it is morally wrong. (Such research results in the destruction of embryos.)

— 88 percent say cloning to reproduce a human being is morally wrong, while 9 percent believe it is acceptable.

The survey asked 1,000 Americans about their perception of the moral acceptability of 16 topics. It was conducted in early May.