Herrera Joins Constitutional Challenge to Bush Administration's 'Partial-Birth Abortion' Ban
Legal challenge on behalf S.F. Department of Public Health marks nation's first foray by a local government in 'most important fight over abortion rights in a generation'
SAN FRANCISCO (Nov. 25, 2003)--City Attorney Dennis Herrera today moved to join Planned Parenthood Federation of America as a plaintiff in litigation challenging the constitutionality of the so-called "Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003," which was signed into law by President Bush on November 5. Within a day of becoming law, however, federal judges in San Francisco, New York and Nebraska issued separate Temporary Restraining Orders that blocked implementation of the measure--setting the stage for perhaps the most important legal battle involving reproductive rights since the landmark Roe v. Wade decision in 1973.
Herrera's move on behalf of San Francisco's Department of Public Health and its employees marks the first such intervention by a local government in the nation, pitting the City and County of San Francisco against U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft's Justice Department, which has pledged "to devote all resources necessary to defend the law prohibiting partial birth abortions."
"In this, the most important fight over abortion rights in a generation, the stakes are far too high, the opposition far too committed for San Francisco to remain neutral," Herrera said. "Make no mistake about it, this ill-considered law violates the rights of the City and County of San Francisco--trampling constitutional guarantees of liberty and privacy for our doctors and our nurses, for our patients and our people."
According to the Motion to Intervene Herrera filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in San Francisco this morning, the City's public healthcare system accepts patients regardless of their ability to pay and performs second trimester abortions. The City's motion argues that if the Bush Administration's "Partial Birth Abortion" ban were allowed to take effect, public health services "would be compromised, potentially endangering the health and lives of the City's neediest women."
At a hearing on the motion slated for January 7, 2004, the Honorable Judge Phyllis J. Hamilton is expected to rule on the City's entitlement to intervene. If successful, the City's claims would mirror those of Planned Parenthood, arguing in litigation that will likely be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court that the Act 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. The City's stake in the litigation, according Herrera, is to ensure that any injunction a court may issue affecting Planned Parenthood also extends to San Francisco's public healthcare providers and patients.
"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. "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 U.S. Justice Department sought to skip preliminary stages in the three lawsuits in San Francisco, New York and Nebraska, and move directly to separate trials before the federal judges who blocked the government from enforcing the partial-birth abortion ban. In doing so, it agreed to extend the temporary restraining orders to 120 days. Federal courts in each of the three cases have agreed to consolidate the hearing on the preliminary injunction with the trial on the merits, scheduled to begin March 29, 2003.
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.
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