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LIFE DIGEST: Supreme Court to hear second partial-birth abortion case; challenge of S.D. law qualifies for ballot

WASHINGTON (BP)–The United States Supreme Court agreed June 19 to review a second case involving the federal Partial-birth Abortion Ban Act.

The high court announced it had accepted an appeal from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which struck down the 2003 law. In doing so, the justices will determine if the ban imposes an undue burden on women and is too vague, according to the Associated Press.

The Supreme Court announced in February it would review an appeal from the Eighth Circuit, which invalidated the law based on its lack of an exception for the health of the mother.

The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the cases during its next term, which begins in October. The Ninth Circuit case is Gonzales v. Planned Parenthood, and the Eighth Circuit appeal is in Gonzales v. Carhart.

The high court’s action in the Ninth Circuit case “clearly puts all of the issues surrounding partial-birth abortion front and center,” said Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice, in a written statement. “The high court not only will determine whether Congress acted appropriately enacting the ban, but the high court also has a critical opportunity to bring an end, once and for all, to the barbaric practice of partial-birth abortion.”

The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission signed onto a friend-of-the-court brief filed in May in the Eighth Circuit case in support of the law. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops submitted the brief.

The law bars a gruesome procedure typically used in the fifth or sixth month of pregnancy. In the method, an intact baby is delivered normally 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. One nurse who witnessed the procedure testified in court several years ago as to seeing the baby’s hands “clasping and unclasping” and its feet “kicking” before it was killed.

Three different appeals courts at the federal level have ruled the prohibition is unconstitutional, but pro-life advocates hold out hope the January confirmation of Samuel Alito as an associate justice means the Supreme Court will reverse those decisions. Alito replaced retired Associate Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who voted with a 5-4 majority that struck down a state ban on partial-birth abortion six years ago.

After President Bush signed the bill into law in November 2003, abortion rights organizations quickly challenged it in three courts and blocked its enforcement. Federal judges in New York City, San Francisco and Lincoln, Neb., struck down the law. Three-judge panels in the Ninth Circuit, based in San Francisco; Eighth Circuit, based in St. Louis, and Second Circuit, based in New York, upheld the lower court decisions.

LOUISIANA BAN — Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco, a Democrat, signed into law June 17 legislation outlawing most abortions if, and when, the U.S. Supreme Court reverses its 1973 decision invalidating state bans on the procedure.

If the high court overturns the Roe v. Wade ruling or if a federal amendment protecting unborn life is ratified, the new law will prohibit abortions in Louisiana with two exceptions: To protect the mother’s life when there is a “substantial risk of death” or to deter “serious permanent impairment of a life-sustaining organ,” The New Orleans Times-Picayune reported.

In signing the legislation, Blanco said she “had hoped this bill would include special protections for women in cases of rape and incest. In the end, these exceptions did not pass, but the central provision of the bill supports and reflects my personal beliefs.”

Under the bill, penalties would include a prison sentence for doctors of as much as 10 years and a fine of up to $100,000.

The Roe opinion struck down all state bans on abortion. Coupled with a companion decision, it had the effect of legalizing abortion throughout the country in all stages of pregnancy. Of the nine justices currently on the high court, five are on record in support of Roe.

S.D. TO VOTE ON BAN -– South Dakota citizens will vote in November on a new state law prohibiting abortion except when the mother’s life is endangered.

South Dakota Secretary of State Chris Nelson verified June 19 a petition by opponents of the law to place it on the November ballot had the necessary 16,728 signatures to qualify, the Sioux Falls (S.D.) Argus Leader reported. The law, which was enacted in March, was scheduled to take effect July 1, but its enforcement will be delayed until after the election.

Supporters of the ban will vote “yes,” while opponents will vote “no,” according to the Argus Leader.

If voters affirm the law at the polls, opponents are expected to challenge it in court.

The measure is the most expansive restriction on abortion since the Roe ruling.

CHINESE CLINICS CLOSED -– Hebei, a northern province of China, has shut down more than 200 clinics for informing mothers of the sex of their unborn babies so they could abort the girls.

Hebei has 134 males born for every 100 females, the Shanghai Daily reported, according to LifeNews.com. Nearly 850 cases of sex-selection abortions, which are outlawed, were discovered, according to the Shanghai newspaper. In addition to the clinics closed, 374 other clinics received fines, the newspaper reported.

Although China has barred the use of sonogram machines for determining the sex of an unborn child, a black market of people with ultrasound machines has developed, according to the report.

China implemented a one-child population control policy in 1973 that continues to be enforced in much of the country. The policy has resulted in reports of forced sterilization, abortion and infanticide. Since 1984, rural couples have been allowed to have a second child if the first is a girl. The Chinese normally favor sons, especially in rural areas, since they are able to support their parents and to continue the family name.

Since the policy’s initiation, the average birth rate has fallen from 5.8 per family to 1.8, according to a recent report.