Rhode Island Judge Invalidates State Ban on "Partial-Birth Abortions"

August 30, 1999 12:00 am

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PROVIDENCE, RI — Ruling along with an overwhelming number of courts across the nation, a federal judge in Rhode Island today struck down a so-called partial-birth abortion ban that would have barred women from access to safe and common abortion procedures.

The decision came in response to a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood Federation of America in July 1997, on behalf of the Rhode Island Medical Society, Planned Parenthood of Rhode Island, and two local physicians.

In his ruling, Chief Judge Ronald R. Lagueux of the U.S. District Court of Rhode Island said the law — which imposed criminal and civil penalties — was unconstitutional because it would ban safe and commonly performed abortions and harm both women and their doctors.

“This decision vindicates constitutional rights and prevents Rhode Island from enforcing a law that would endanger women’s health,” said Talcott Camp, an attorney with the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project.

Specifically, Judge Lagueux invalidated the law on four grounds, saying that it impeded women’s access to safe abortions and medical care; it lacked a health exception and an adequate life exception; because the law allows the woman’s sexual partner and parents to sue the doctor unless they consent to the abortion, it effectively and impermissibly requires the consent of these third parties before the woman can obtain medical care; and the law was unconstitutionally vague and did not clearly define what abortion procedures were prohibited.

“We are extremely pleased that the court has ruled so strongly,” said Steve Brown, Executive Director of the ACLU of Rhode Island. “The passage of this law was nothing less than a direct attack on women’s reproductive freedom.”

“The ruling reinforces what we have known all along,” said Susan Closter-Godoy, Public Affairs Director at Planned Parenthood of Rhode Island. “Reproductive health care decisions should be made by physicians and women. You cannot legislate medical practice.”

The case is Rhode Island Medical Society v. Whitehouse, Civil Action No. 97-416-L. The attorneys in the case are Catherine Weiss (Director), 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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