In a major victory for lawyers fighting a federal ban on a type of abortion, a doctor testifying for the government acknowledged that a main part of the procedure may be necessary in other types of abortion.
Dr. Elizabeth Shadigian (search), and obstetrician and gynecologist from the University of Michigan, made the statement to a judge Thursday after she finished testifying in a trial challenging the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act (search).
The law, signed last year by President Bush, bars a procedure doctors call "intact dilation and extraction," or D&X, and that opponents call partial-birth abortion. During the procedure, generally performed in the second trimester, a fetus is partially removed from the womb and its skull is punctured or crushed.
The law has not been enforced because judges in Lincoln, New York and San Francisco agreed to hear evidence in three simultaneous non-jury trials on whether the ban violates the Constitution.
U.S. District Judge Richard Kopf (search) asked Shadigian what would happen if complications arose during a more common abortion procedure called "dilation and evacuation," or D&E, which is not covered by the ban.
Shadigian acknowledged that collapsing the skull might be necessary during D&Es in some cases, such as when the woman is hemorrhaging.
Lawyers from the Center for Reproductive Rights challenged the law on behalf of abortion provider Dr. LeRoy Carhart and three other physicians.
Carhart testified earlier that the ban is so broad that it could be interpreted as covering more common procedures, including D&E, which sometimes result in a fetus being removed whole.
Congress declared that "a partial birth abortion is never necessary to preserve the health of a woman" and is "outside the standard of medical care."
The Bush administration has argued that the procedure is "inhumane and gruesome" and causes the fetus to suffer pain.
Doctors who use the D&X procedure have said it is the safest method of abortion in some cases. But Shadigian said that has not been proven.
"It's just anecdotal evidence that they think it's safe," she said. "Medicine is based on evidence."
An estimated 140,000 D&Es take place in the United States annually, compared with an estimated 2,200 to 5,000 D&Xs.
A total of 1.3 million abortions are performed in the United States each year. Almost 90 percent occur in the first trimester.