San Francisco Becomes First Municipality to Challenge Constitutionality of Ban on So-called ‘Partial-Birth Abortion’

Herrera’s Challenge to Bush Administration’s Abortion Ban Marks ‘Important Foray’ Into the ‘Most Important Fight Over Abortion Rights in a Generation’

U.S. District Judge Phyllis J. Hamilton today granted a motion by San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera to intervene in litigation challenging the constitutionality of the of the so-called “Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003,” which was signed into law by President Bush on November 5. The City and County of San Francisco will now join Planned Parenthood as co-plaintiff in litigation arguing that the law violates several guarantees under the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, including women’s rights to privacy, life, and liberty; women’s right to bodily integrity; and medical care providers’ rights to due process. Though the constitutional challenge is likely to be ultimately decided by the U.S. Supreme Court, today’s decision ensures that the temporary restraining order previously issued is extended to San Francisco’s public healthcare providers and insures that teir patients will continue to receive vital medical services.

“Today’s ruling is far more than symbolic,” Herrera said. “It represents an important foray by a major American city to help strike down a misguided law that tramples constitutional rights of our doctors and our nurses, our patients and our people. In this, the most important fight over abortion rights in a generation, the stakes are far too high for San Francisco to remain neutral. We applaud Judge Hamilton’s ruling today.”

Filed on behalf of San Francisco’s Department of Public Health and its employees and providers, today’s ruling marks the first intervention by a local government in the nation, pitting the City and County of San Francisco against a U.S. Justice Department under Attorney General John Ashcroft, who has pledged “to devote all resources necessary to defend the law prohibiting partial birth abortions.”

According to the Motion to Intervene Herrera filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in San Francisco in November, the City’s public healthcare system accepts patients regardless of their ability to pay and performs second trimester abortions. The City’s motion argued that if the Bush Administration’s “partial birth abortion” ban were allowed to take effect, the facility’s services “would be compromised, potentially endangering the health and lives of the City’s neediest women.”

“The Bush Administration’s ban on so-called ‘partial birth abortions’ is a stalking horse for the extremist aims of the anti-choice lobby,” Herrera said at the time. “Deliberately written to be vague, it is a calculated ploy that would replace sound medical judgment with prosecutorial fear among doctors and nurses. This law isn’t about banning instances of a rare but medically-established abortion procedure-it’s about perpetrating a chilling effect on all abortion rights in every hospital and clinic in America. In San Francisco, the stakes are highest for poor women whose reproductive rights would be most directly affected.”

The San Francisco case is Planned Parenthood et al v. Ashcroft, 03-4872. The New York case is National Abortion Federation v. Ashcroft, 03-8695. The Nebraska case is Carhart v. Ashcroft, 03-3385.