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Bush passes partial-birth abortion ban

Two weeks ago, Bush signed the partial-birth abortion ban into
law and by the next day, federal judges in San Francisco, New York,
and Nebraska had placed temporary injunctions on enforcement of the
law, based on a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2000, which struck
down a similar Nebraska law.

The ban affects abortion procedures in which the fetus must be
partially delivered for the abortion to be completed.

While the rulings protect a large majority of abortion
providers, including Planned Parenthood and the National Abortion
Federation (NAF), many in the Mills community feel the ban is a
calculated move to repeal the rights granted to women by Roe v.

“I’m horrified it lacks a health exception,” said women’s
studies professor Kirsten Saxton, “and I’m extremely worried about
the broad language of the bill.”

Saxton said she believes the law is ultimately part of a
strategic effort to reverse the right to reproductive freedom for
women in this country.

Health Director Cynthia Turner said that in the twenty years she
has been working in health care, she could only think of four women
who had late-term abortions, and that they are usually performed
after the discovery of fatal birth defects. She said the procedure
is in fact rare, and the push to make it illegal was only the

“It’s scary. This opens the door to ending Roe v. Wade and
that’s what it’s meant to be,” said Turner. “It’s not about what
point in the pregnancy, it’s about women’s rights.”

Turner has dealt with countless women and girls around pregnancy
and abortion, in her current work with Mills and Berkeley students,
as well as her previous work for Children’s Hospital and in
adoption and foster care. She remembers what it was like before the
Roe decision, and believes this will greatly affect poorer women
around the country.

“Women that have more economic ability will still be able to get
abortions, illegal or legal,” she said, “but it’s a very different
story for poorer women.”

“Making it illegal won’t stop women from having abortions any
more than it did then.” But, she said, it would push them to far
more dangerous procedures.

“It’s another scare tactic,” said Margo Okazawa-Rey, director of
the Women’s Leadership Institute. “It’s very, very rare,” she said,
referring to the now-illegal abortions.

“It’s a major setback for women’s rights-ever since Roe v. Wade,
there’s been this major push to take women’s rights back to pre-Roe
v. Wade,” she said. “Many medical schools aren’t even teaching
[abortion] procedures anymore.”

Students are also against the ban. Freshwoman Luba Reznikova
said, “I could see how people would want to ban it, but the mothers
should always come first.”

The ban lacks a health exception for the woman: it is illegal
even if her health is in danger, though it can be performed if her
life is in immediate danger. The reason for the exclusion, written
into the law, is that it “is a gruesome and inhumane procedure that
is never medically necessary and should be prohibited.” It is also
not specific to gestation period, such as third trimester,
addressing only the procedure itself no matter when it is

“We’re outraged,” said Amy Everitt, state director for the
California branch of NARAL Pro-choice America. “This is the first
president in the history of the United States to outlaw a safe
medical procedure with no exception for the health of the

In the previous case, Stenberg v. Carhart, the Supreme Court
ruled the Nebraska law unconstitutional because it lacked an
exception to protect women’s health against both the health risks
caused by the pregnancy and the risks caused by a law that forces
women to choose a less medically appropriate procedure.

Opponents of the bill argue it outlaws safe abortion procedures
that are used starting as early as 12 weeks, a full month before
women have an amniocentesis test where many fatal defects are

Among others, Planned Parenthood, NARAL, and the California
Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League have denounced the
ban as unconstitutional and dangerous to a woman’s right to choose.
Access to abortion is already restricted, according to NARAL, 87
percent of U.S. counties already have no abortion provider.

Even some supporters are upset by the lack of health exception.
In a speech on the House floor Oct. 2, Rep. Tom Udall (NM) said he
supported the ban if it included a health exception, but that
“without that component, this bill is unconstitutional. I am
disappointed that the authors of this bill made no effort to remedy
this flaw.”

Others oppose it entirely. Rep. Corrine Brown (FL) said, “this
bill does not mention fetal viability, so it has the potential to
restrict abortions throughout the pregnancy.”

Arguing the position that it is never medically necessary, The
National Right to Life Committee helped to develop all three
versions of the ban that have been through Congress and was created
in 1973 specifically in response to the Roe v. Wade decision.

The term “partial-birth abortion” has been widely disputed.
According to the American Medical Association Web site,
partial-birth abortion is not an actual medical term; it is known
as “dilation and extraction” in the medical community, and
“so-called partial-birth abortion” is often heard in regards to the

Everitt said the law is “emotional explosive language outlawing
something that doesn’t actually exist.”

The bill, introduced in February, was approved by the House of
Representatives on Oct. 2 and the Senate three weeks later. In
Sept., the Harkin amendment, expressing support for Roe v. Wade,
was dropped from the bill. Congress passed two previous versions of
this bill, in 1995 and 1997, both of which former Pres. Clinton

The ban specifies jail terms of up to two years for medical
providers, and opens the door for civil lawsuits against those same
providers by the parents or husbands of women who have the
procedure for any reason.