U.S. District Court in S.F. Strikes Down Bush Administration’s Federal Abortion Ban

Nation’s First Decision Among Three Current Constitutional Challenges is ‘Soundly Reasoned, Extremely Thorough’ and an Important Victory, Says Herrera

U.S. District Court Judge Phyllis J. Hamilton has struck down the so-called “Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003,” ruling in a 117-page decision issued this morning that the law is unconstitutional on three bases: that it imposed an undue burden on a woman’s ability to choose a second trimester abortion; that it was unconstitutionally vague; and that it failed to provide an exception for maternal health as mandated by a previous U.S. Supreme Court decision. With Judge Hamilton’s decision, the U.S. Justice Department is now enjoined from enforcing the abortion restrictions signed into law by President Bush last November against public health care providers in the City and County of San Francisco, which is a co-plaintiff in the case along with Planned Parenthood.

This morning’s ruling in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California marks the first decision among three separate constitutional challenges to the controversial law underway in New York, Nebraska and here in San Francisco.

“This is a soundly reasoned, extremely thorough decision that marks an important victory for reproductive rights in America,” said City Attorney Dennis Herrera. “While it’s very likely that the constitutionality of this misguided law will ultimately be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court, today’s decision ensures that San Francisco’s public healthcare providers and their patients may access vital medical services without fear of prosecution. We applaud Judge Hamilton’s ruling today.”

Filed on behalf of San Francisco’s Department of Public Health and its employees and providers, the intervention by the City and County of San Francisco represents the only such involvement by a local government in the nation. In intervening in the case last January, Herrera said: “The Bush Administration’s ban on so-called ‘partial birth abortions’ is a stalking horse for the extremist aims of the anti-choice lobby. 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.