Key Victory In Appeals Court Against 2003 Federal Abortion Ban

Today, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit held unconstitutional the "Partial Birth Abortion Act of 2003," because the law failed to provide any exception if a woman's health is at stake. The lawsuit was brought by the Center for Reproductive Rights on behalf of Nebraska physician Dr. LeRoy Carhart, who in Stenberg v. Carhart (2000) won a Supreme Court victory challenging a similar abortion ban, and three other physicians.

"Four federal courts have now exposed this deceptive law for what it is-a dangerous ban that not only fails to protect women's health, but jeopardizes it. Congress ignored women's heath in passing this law. Fortunately, the Eighth Circuit followed the Supreme Court's clear ruling that women's health matters. The United States government should stop this relentless campaign to restrict women's access to reproductive services at the expense of their health and lives," said Nancy Northup, President of the Center for Reproductive Rights.

President George W. Bush signed the legislation into law in 2003. Shortly thereafter, three challenges to the act were brought by the Center for Reproductive Rights, American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood Federation of America in separate federal courts. Last year, all three courts declared the law unconstitutional because it contains no exception for the woman's health and would outlaw abortions that doctors say are safe and among the best for women's health.

In today's ruling, the Eighth Circuit held in Stenberg, the Supreme Court established "a per se constitutional rule . . . that the constitutional requirement of a health exception applies to all abortion statutes." The Circuit rejected Congress's attempt to circumvent the Supreme Court's Stenberg decision: "Neither we, nor Congress, are free to disagree with the Supreme Court's determination because the Court's conclusions are final on matters of constitutional law."

The trial court in the case also held that the 2003 federal abortion ban did not cover just one procedure, but would criminalize the most common abortion procedures starting early in the second trimester.

The government filed appeals in each federal abortion ban case. Carhart v. Gonzales is the first appeal to be decided. The Department of Justice may now either file a petition for Supreme Court review or ask for a rehearing before the full Eighth Circuit.

Learn more about the federal abortion ban.