Last week, an extremely divided federal appeals court ruled that a Virginia law banning so-called “partial birth” abortions is constitutional. The Virginia law, the Partial Birth Abortion Infanticide Act, originally passed in 2003 and overturned in 2005, makes it a Class 4 felony for any physician who knowingly performs a ‘partial birth’ abortion. The medical term for the procedure is intact dilation and evacuation.
This recent ruling brings Virginia’s abortion policies more in line with federal legislation passed in 2003, the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act (PDF). Unfortunately, this ban does not make exceptions for doctors who, under emergency situations, would have to switch from a different abortion procedure to an intact dilation and evacuation.
The case was decided in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit with an extremely close vote of 6-5. In response to the result, Judge M. Blane wrote in his dissenting opinion that “[t]his result places an undue burden on a woman’s right to obtain a pre-viability second trimester abortion — a constitutional right repeatedly reaffirmed by the Supreme Court.”
Similar to the Virginia ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a similar ban in 2007. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg made the following statement regarding the high court’s majority opinion:
“[It] cannot be understood as anything other than an effort to chip away a right declared again and again by this court, and with increasing comprehension of its centrality to women’s lives.”
The full impact of these two rulings over the past two years is unknown, but these decisions will greatly impact abortion services for women across the nation.