Partial-Birth Abortion Issue Headed for Supreme Court

July 7, 2008 - 7:02 PM

( - After Monday's ruling by the US 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, which upheld laws banning partial birth abortions in Illinois and Wisconsin, the final decision appears to be headed for the US Supreme Court, spokespeople on both sides of the issue told The decision comes a month after another federal appeals court overturned similar bans in Nebraska, Iowa and Arkansas.

"This makes it likely that the Supreme Court will rule, perhaps next year, on whether Roe v. Wade covers pulling most of a living baby feet-first outside of the womb, puncturing her skull, and removing her brain," said Douglas Johnson, legislative director for the National Right to Life Committee, which supported the Wisconsin law.

The Illinois law provides for a penalty of three years in prison for a doctor who performs the operation, while in Wisconsin the maximum punishment is life imprisonment.

While Johnson is graphic, his depiction of the procedure performed in the third trimester of pregnancy is an accurate description of the highly controversial operation called partial birth abortion by opponents, late term abortion by proponents, and referred to medically as "intact dilation and extraction."

In the 7th Circuit's ruling, the court said that according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the procedure involves a protracted dilation of the woman's cervix - usually over several days - followed by the feet-first extraction of the fetus and the suctioning of the fetus' brains before it is delivered intact.

Opponents of the ban on what they call "late term abortion" view the 7th Circuit Court's decision as a setback for abortion rights, but like their counterparts in the pro-life movement they expect the final decision to eventually reach the Supreme Court.

"We are shocked by the decision," said Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) president Gloria Feldt in a statement. "However, we must be vigilant. Planned Parenthood will immediately begin the analysis of the court decision."

A spokesperson for PPFA told that the fact that different federal courts arrived at different decisions about the constitutionality of partial birth abortion means that a Supreme Court hearing is inevitable.

"I think it would be premature to speculate which case is going to make it to the [Supreme] Court. The fact is, a case will," said Adina Wingate Quijada.

Pro-life groups, such as the American Life League (ALL), were encouraged by the 7th Circuit's ruling, but said that it was too vague because the procedure can still be used if the mother's life is endangered.

"It's definitely a great thing," ALL spokesman Mark DeYoung told "But they are not true bans."

Republicans for Choice, a political action committee for Republicans who believe that abortion should not be an issue on the GOP platform, take no stand on partial birth abortion, but they also expect an eventual Supreme Court decision on the matter.

"We consider it a public relations ploy to win people over," Republicans for Choice Executive Director Stacy Kratt told "It will go to the Supreme Court because there is the obvious conflict between the 7th and 8th Circuits' rulings," she added.