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Pro-lifers dismayed with blocking of bans, but court may act soon

WASHINGTON (BP)–Pro-life advocates expressed dismay when enforcement of the only state bans on partial-birth abortions upheld by a federal appeals court was blocked by a U.S. Supreme Court justice, but the end result could be action by the entire high court.

On the day before they were to take effect, Supreme Court Associate Justice John Paul Stevens issued stays on partial-birth abortion bans in Illinois and Wisconsin. Stevens’ orders came after the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals upheld both laws and refused to block their enforcement pending an appeal to the high court.

If the Supreme Court decides to review the appeal, the stays will remain in effect. If the justices do not accept the cases, the laws will go into effect, according to Stevens’ orders.

“Sadly, Justice Stevens’ action reveals that even infanticide can be politicized,” said Ben Mitchell, consultant for the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

“The destruction of unborn babies through the partial-birth abortion procedure is clearly immoral and ought to be illegal. We wouldn’t allow animals to be treated that way.”

In a written statement, Douglas Johnson, legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee, called it “regrettable that [Stevens] has unilaterally blocked enforcement of bans on partial-birth abortions that were democratically enacted by the legislatures of two states and upheld as constitutional by a full federal court of appeals. Stevens has long demonstrated a hostility to any limitation on abortion on demand.”

NRLC said, however, even if the other justices do not review Stevens’ Nov. 30 orders the Supreme Court is likely to handle a partial-birth abortion appeal this term or next. The Seventh Circuit’s ruling conflicts with September decisions by the Eighth Circuit, which struck down bans in Arkansas, Iowa and Nebraska. In addition, partial-birth abortion appeals are pending in the First, Third, Fourth, Fifth and Sixth circuits, according to NRLC.

The procedure prohibited by the bans became public knowledge earlier in this decade and is typically performed in the fifth or sixth month of pregnancy. As practiced by some abortion doctors, it involves the delivery of an intact baby feet first until only the head is left in the birth canal. The doctor pierces the base of the baby’s skull with surgical scissors, then inserts a catheter into the opening and suctions out the brain. The collapse of the skull enables easier removal of the dead child.

Though 27 states have passed partial-birth prohibitions, only eight are in effect. Nearly all of the others have been struck down or blocked by courts. The bans in effect are in Indiana, Mississippi, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee and Virginia, according to NRLC.

In October, the U.S. Senate again approved a federal ban on partial-birth abortions. The 63-34 vote was the third time senators have approved the measure. President Clinton vetoed the bill the two previous times. He is expected to again if the House of Representatives passes the bill, as it appears it will next year.

Both times, the House has gained the two-thirds majority necessary to override a veto, but the Senate has fallen short, the last time by three votes. This year’s Senate vote again fell short of a veto-proof majority.

Mitchell, who is the ERLC’s biomedical and life issues consultant, is assistant professor of bioethics and contemporary culture at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Ill.