Bush Backs Ohio Push to Ban Late-Term Abortions

Ohio is appealing a federal judge's ruling overturning the state's ban on late-term abortions, and is getting the backing of the Department of Justice.

The Justice Department has asked the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals to hear the case on whether a judge incorrectly ruled the ban is unconstitutional and unenforceable.

"This case concerns the constitutionality of Ohio's restriction on performing what it defines as a partial-birth abortion procedure," DOJ attorneys argued. "The question is one of great interest as a matter of public policy and of constitutional law, and it turns on several significant U.S. Supreme Court decisions interpreting the states' authority to regulate abortions."

The filing angered abortion supporters.

"This latest move by the administration should alarm the majority of Americans who believe that personal reproductive health care decisions should remain between women and their doctors," said Vicki Saporta, executive director of the National Abortion Federation.

The Justice Department's decision to weigh in on case will have no impact on the outcome, say lawyers fighting to keep the procedure.

"It doesn't strengthen the case. I think it's simply an indication that the Bush administration wants to weigh in on this issue," said Alphonse Gerhardstein, lawyer for abortion provider Dr. Martin Haskell who filed the lawsuit.

Ohio moved to ban the procedure two years ago, but the prohibition, which included an exception in the case of preserving the life or health of the mother, was supposed to go into effect in August 2000.

The procedure, called partial-birth abortion by opponents, involves pulling the fetus partially out of the uterus feet first. The skull is then punctured and the brain suctioned out, causing the skull to collapse and easing passage through the birth canal.

The law was challenged before it was instituted. Last September, U.S. District Judge Walter Rice ruled the state ban unconstitutional because it doesn't allow the dilation-and-extraction procedure to be used when it is safer for a patient than other alternatives.

Denise Mackura, executive director of Ohio Right to Life, has said many doctors believe the procedure is not the safest technique.

This is the second time in a week that the Bush administration has taken action favoring abortion opponents. Last week, the Health and Human Services Department said it would change the classification of fetuses to children in order to qualify pregnant women for state health care programs that are aimed at children only.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.