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Federal Government

Abortion Ban


Federal law outlaws certain second-trimester abortion procedures, with no exception to protect a woman's health. 18 U.S.C.A § 1531 (2003).

In 2003, President Bush became the first president ever to criminalize safe, medically appropriate abortion procedures when he signed into law the Federal Abortion Ban, called by its anti-choice sponsors the "Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003."  The federal law makes certain previability, second-trimester abortion procedures a felony and imposes a criminal penalty of up to two years in prison.  18 U.S.C.A. § 1531 (2003).  

Six federal district and appellate courts declared the law unconstitutional.  Carhart v. Ashcroft, 287 F. Supp. 2d 1015 (D. Neb. 2004), aff'd sub nom. Carhart v. Gonzales, 413 F.3d 791 (8th Cir. 2005), rev'd, 127 S.Ct. 1610 (2007); Nat'l Abortion Fed'n v. Gonzales, 287 F. Supp. 2d 525 (S.D.N.Y. 2003), aff'd, Nat'l Abortion Fed'n v. Gonzales, 437 F.3d 278, (2d Cir. 2006), vacated by 127 S.Ct. 1610 (2007); Planned Parenthood Fed'n of Am. v. Gonzales, 320 F. Supp. 2d 957 (N.D. Cal. 2004), aff'd, Planned Parenthood Fed'n of Am. v. Gonzales, 435 F.3d 1163, (9th Cir. 2006), rev'd, 127 S.Ct. 1610 (2007).  The courts found the ban unconstitutional in part because, like a very similar Nebraska law the U.S. Supreme Court struck down in 2000, the ban had no exception to protect women's health.  Stenberg v. Carhart, 530 U.S. 914 (2000).  Several of the courts also found that the ban's language was overbroad and potentially outlawed the most common second-trimester procedures. 

The Bush administration asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review the Eighth and Ninth Circuit decisions and in April 2007, the court overturned the decisions of the lower courts and declared the ban constitutional.  Gonzales v. Carhart and Gonzales v. Planned Parenthood Federation of America, 127 S.Ct. 1610 (2007).  The court interpreted the ban to be limited to a single procedure, and based on that construction, found that a health exception was not constitutionally required.  As a federal law, the ban applies nationwide, regardless of state law.

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