Late-Term Abortion Ban Case Wrapping Up in S.F.

After three weeks of graphic and conflicting medical testimony about abortion procedures in three federal courtrooms, the San Francisco trial is wrapping up.

Closing arguments were scheduled Friday afternoon in the effort by abortion providers to permanently block the Partial-Birth Abortion Act (search), which President Bush signed last year.

Federal judges in New York, Lincoln, Neb. and San Francisco tentatively blocked the act from being enforced pending the outcome of the court challenges.

The law carries two-year prison terms for doctors and is the first substantial federal limitation on abortion since the Roe v. Wade (search) Supreme Court decision three decades ago legalizing abortion.

The judges, which began hearing the cases March 29, must decide whether the ban violates Supreme Court precedent. The Nebraska case concludes in June. The New York case continues. Rulings in all three venues are expected soon, and will likely be appealed to the Supreme Court.

In the banned procedure, a doctor partially removes a living fetus from the womb before puncturing or crushing its skull.

During the weeks of testimony, doctors testifying on behalf of Congress claimed the method is never medically necessary, possibly harmful to women and verges on infanticide. Witnesses for the abortion providers testified that the banned method is often preferred and sometimes necessary to preserve a woman's health.

Congressional sponsors said the ban would outlaw only 2,200 or so abortions a year. But abortion providers testified the banned method can happen even after doctors try to avoid it, such as when they attempt to remove the fetus from the womb in pieces, which is acceptable under the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act.

Because of that, abortion rights advocates said the law endangers almost all second-trimester abortions, or 10 percent of the nation's 1.3 million annual abortions. First trimester fetuses aren't covered under the act.