Late-Term Abortion Law Upheld in Va.

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A Virginia law banning a form of late-term abortions was struck down Wednesday, giving doctors the green light to use certain "partial birth" procedures.

A federal appeals panel in Richmond, Va., ruled 2-1 that the state's current law was too restrictive, and thus, unconstitutional.

"It imposes an undue burden on a woman's right to obtain an abortion," Judge M. Blane Michael wrote in the majority opinion.

Still, many state officials oppose the recent ruling.

"We are extremely disappointed with the divided decision," said J. Tucker Martin, spokesman for Virginia Attorney General Bob McDonnell. "We are reviewing the panel opinion at this time and considering all possible courses of action."

The panel's decision ignored similar legislation known as the "Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act" that was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court (WHEN?).

Both laws prohibit doctors from performing "intact dilation and extraction," a procedure that involves removing the fetus, often crushing or damaging its skull.

The more widely used abortion procedure "dilation and evacuation" is permitted, however. During that process, doctors dismember the fetus from the womb.

"Unlike the federal act, the Virginia act subjects all doctors who perform (the more common procedure) to potential criminal liability, thereby imposing an unconstitutional burden on a woman's right to choose," Michael wrote.

The Virginia law does not protect doctors who intend to perform the allowed abortion procedure but end up accidentally performing the banned procedure.

Opponents felt that compromised other legal forms of abortion already practiced.

"Virginia's statute effectively would have banned . . . the most commonly performed second-trimester abortion procedures and would have severely limited women's access to second-trimester abortion services," Center for Reproductive Rights lawyer, Stephanie Toti, said.

The same law was struck down previously in 2005 by Judge Michael and Judge Diana Gribbon Motz.

Virginia has two weeks to either appeal the recent decision or convince the full federal appeals court that it is necessary.

Sources: New York Times, Richmond Times Dispatch, Associated Press

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