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Late-term abortion ban on hold

By ROBIN MITCHELL

© St. Petersburg Times, published July 7, 2000


Days after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a similar law, state officials said Thursday they will not enforce a ban on a late-term procedure called "partial-birth" abortion.

Supporters of the ban were disappointed by the state's decision. A spokesman for Gov. Jeb Bush called the development disappointing.

Florida's partial-birth abortion ban was signed into law May 25 by Bush.

Last week, a divided U.S. Supreme Court struck down a Nebraska law banning the rare and controversial "partial-birth" abortion method.

The 5-4 decision said the law could be interpreted to cover other abortion procedures and expose a woman to unnecessary health risks.

The state said Thursday that, based on the Supreme Court decision, abortion clinics and doctors were entitled to a permanent injunction blocking enforcement.

The combination of the state's action and the recent Supreme Court decision flustered opponents of "partial-birth" abortions.

"I'm very disappointed in the Supreme Court, because they use the life or health of the mother argument and the procedure has nothing to do with the life and health of the mother," said Dr. Max Karrer, a Jacksonville gynecologist and state chairman of the Christian Coalition. "It's just a procedure to end the life of the baby."

In addition to Florida, 28 states have similar laws, most already blocked or severely limited by lower courts.

The Supreme Court ruling also made efforts to pass a federal version of the law largely symbolic.

"I think we have to see what Congress does," Karrer said. "Then the fight will really be on."

Although pleased with the partial-birth abortion ban signed into law May 25 by Gov. Jeb Bush, Karrer had favored waiting until the Supreme Court reached a decision in the Nebraska case, then crafting a bill written to resist a challenge.

Florida legislators this year debated and passed the prohibition on the late-term procedure at the same time the Supreme Court was hearing arguments -- often in searingly graphic detail -- in the Nebraska case.

The Supreme Court decision curbed the states' power to outlaw the dilation and extraction method, which opponents called "partial-birth" abortion. Dilation and extraction involves pulling all but the fetal head into the birth canal, then suctioning out the brain to make the head fit through the canal.

The measure signed into law by Gov. Bush in May was the state's second attempt in two years to pass legislation limiting "partial-birth" abortions. The prior effort was ruled unconstitutional in 1998 by a federal judge in Miami.

A Tallahassee lawyer who successfully challenged several abortion laws since 1989 said last week's decision by the nation's high court made it clear the Florida law was unconstitutional.

"I'm very relieved that this case has been, for the most part, wrapped up," Charlene Carres said.

The state also agreed Thursday that it owes attorneys' fees to Carres and other lawyers for the plaintiffs. The Center for Reproductive Law and Policy in New York also represented the physicians and clinics.

Carres estimated the cost of case will be in the tens of thousands of dollars. The state paid more than $100,000 to the attorneys who challenged Florida's first ban on partial-birth abortions.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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