Partial Birth Abortion Act of 2003


On November 5, 2003, President George Bush signed into law the Partial-Birth Abortion Act, which included a sole exception to preserve the lives of women, and also calls for a minimum two-year jail term for violators.

Says the first paragraph of the Act, “A moral, medical and ethical consensus exists that the practice of performing a partial-birth abortion…is a gruesome and inhumane procedure that is never medically necessary and should be prohibited.”

Within hours of becoming law, judges in three cities blocked it from taking force. Three federal appeals courts have since ruled that this federal ban is unconstitutional on many legal grounds. The 2003 Partial-Birth Abortion Act has never been enforced.

After its much-criticized ruling that the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision fully protects the practice of partial-birth abortion, the US Supreme Court agreed in February 2006 to take another look at the issue by announcing that the justices will review a lower-court ruling that has blocked enforcement of the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, signed into law by President George Bush in November 2003.


Based upon Roe v. Wade (410 U.S.113 (1973)) and Planned Parenthood v. Casey (505 U.S. 833 (1992)), a governmental interest in protecting the life of a child during the delivery process arises by virtue of the fact that during a partial-birth abortion, labor is induced and the birth process has begun. This distinction was recognized in Roe when the Court noted, without comment, that the Texas parturition statute, which prohibited one from killing a child “in a state of being born and before actual birth,” was not under attack. This interest becomes compelling as the child emerges from the maternal body. A child that is completely born is a full, legal person entitled to constitutional protections afforded a “person” under the United States Constitution. Partial-birth abortions involve the killing of a child that is in the process, in fact mere inches away from, becoming a “person”. Thus, the government has a heightened interest in protecting the life of the partially-born child.

For the first time in 25 years, the debate is about the abortion act itself and how it affects the unborn. “When someone holds up a model of a six-month-old fetus and a pair of surgical scissors, we say ‘choice’ and we lose,” writes Naomi Wolf.

At a National Abortion Federation meeting in 1996, Kathryn Kohlbert cautioned delegates that if the debate over partial-birth abortion focuses on what happens to the unborn, their side will get “creamed.” She urged focusing exclusively on the woman:

“If the debate is whether or not the fetus feels pain, we lose. If the debate in the public arena is what’s the effect of anesthesia. [on the fetus], we’ll lose. If the debate is on whether or not women ought to be entitled to late abortion, we will probably lose. But if the debate is on the circumstances of individual women, and [how] the government shouldn’t be making those decisions, then I think we can win these fights.”


In Minnesota there is a bi-partisan effort underway to pass legislation that would outlaw forced abortions in that state. The impact that this legislation may have on abortion rates would be truly impressive – a article claims that studies show 64% of abortions involve coercion against the mother’s will. The bill’s objective would be simple:

The ban on coerced abortions would require abortion businesses to inform women before the abortion is done that no one can pressure them into having an abortion against their will.

To stop unwanted abortions from occurring, the bill would offer women help to remove themselves from dangerous situations where coercion exists and would establish civil and criminal penalties for anyone who forces a woman to abort.

In recent days, those of us who have argued steadfastly for the use of harsh language and images to convey the reality of abortions have come under fire from those who believe such techniques are ‘counterproductive’. Now is a good time for all of us to remember that there are many women who have abortion forced upon them, and many more who, while not quite forced, are pressured in many ways by parents and partners, and even employers, to have abortions.


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