Federal Appeals Court Finds Rhode Island's Abortion Ban Unconstitutional

February 13, 2001 12:00 am

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Tuesday, February 13, 2001

BOSTON, MA–In one of the last remaining challenges to a state ban on so-called “partial-birth abortion,” the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit has upheld a lower court’s decision striking Rhode Island’s ban, the American Civil Liberties Union announced today.

“We are gratified that the court recognized the ban for what it is: a pernicious and broad attack on abortion rights,” said Catherine Weiss, Director of the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project. “This decision, like the dozens that came before it in similar cases throughout the nation, should send a clear message to lawmakers that they must stop experimenting with women’s health and testing the limits of the right to choose.”

The ruling, issued late yesterday, follows the lead of the majority of courts throughout the country, including the U.S. Supreme Court, to have considered similar bans. The courts have consistently held these bans unconstitutional because they ban safe and common abortion procedures preformed throughout pregnancy, and they pose a grave threat to women’s health.

Like these other courts, the First Circuit held yesterday that the ban’s “murkiness . . . chilled both [the physicians’] constitutional rights and the constitutional rights of their patients.”

“In pursuing this case in the face of a strong opinion from the U.S. Supreme Court striking Nebraska’s virtually identical ban, the state exercised, at best, poor judgment. The governor’s office wasted taxpayers’ money on a case it could not win, as part of a prolonged campaign of demonizing abortion,” said Caitlin Borgmann, an attorney with the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project.

Despite these losses in the courts, anti-choice lawmakers in Congress have indicated their interest in introducing yet another federal ban, and the White House has expressed its support of such a measure. The previous three Congresses passed federal bans. President Clinton vetoed two of these; the third one never reached his desk for signature.

The case, Rhode Island Medical Society v. Whitehouse, No. 99-2141, was filed on behalf of the Rhode Island Medical Society, Planned Parenthood of Rhode Island, and two local physicians. Attorneys in the case are Catherine Weiss, Caitlin Borgmann, and Talcott Camp of the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project, Lynette Labinger as cooperating counsel for the ACLU of Rhode Island, and Eve C. Gartner of Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

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