A federal judge on Wednesday blocked a federal ban on certain late-term abortions from applying to four doctors in a ruling issued less than an hour after President Bush signed the ban into law.
U.S. District Judge Richard Kopf (search) issued a temporary restraining order against the law after a three-hour hearing on a lawsuit in Nebraska brought by abortion-rights supporters.
The order applies only to the doctors in the lawsuit, who are licensed in 13 states: Nebraska, Iowa, Indiana, Kansas, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Wisconsin, Virginia, Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina and New York.
Kopf cited concerns that the law did not contain an exception for preserving the health of the woman seeking the abortion.
"While it is also true that Congress found that a health exception is not needed, it is, at the very least, problematic whether I should defer to such a conclusion when the Supreme Court has found otherwise," Kopf said.
The law bans procedures on fetuses that are roughly 14 weeks or older called partial-birth abortions (search).
Under the new law, a woman could not undergo the procedure even if her health was at risk or the child would be born with ailments, but backers of the statute contend the procedure is never necessary to protect a woman's health.
The judge's order "will protect doctors from facing prison for providing their patients with the best medical care," said Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights (search), which filed the lawsuit.
Justice Department (search) lead attorney Anthony Coppolino told Kopf that he should show deference to Congress' findings that the abortion procedure has not been studied enough to prove it is necessary.
"I'm mindful of the court's concerns ... but we ask that you give consideration to the deep concerns that were expressed by Congress," Coppolino said. "It is an abhorrent and useless procedure."
But Kopf replied that he could find no record that any doctor who performs abortions in the second and third trimester testified before Congress on late-term abortions. "Isn't that important if Congress was really interested in knowing about this procedure?" he asked.
Kopf did not immediately schedule the next hearing in the case.
An earlier challenge by one of the four doctors in the suit led to the Supreme Court overturning Nebraska's so-called partial-birth abortion ban in 2000. The high court said the law and others like it passed by other states were an "undue burden" on women's rights.