Late Thursday afternoon, U.S. District Judge Phyllis Hamilton in San Francisco ruled that the new law appears to be unconstitutional because it provides no exemptions for a woman's health, causing "an undue burden on a woman's right to choose."
Hamilton's ruling affects doctors who work at 900 Planned Parenthood clinics across the country.
Earlier in the day, U.S. District Judge Richard Casey issued a similar order in New York in response to a petition from the National Abortion Federation (NAF) and seven physicians who argued they would suffer irreparable harm without the court injunction.
Casey's decision also has national implications since the NAF, which describes itself as "the professional association of abortion providers in the United States and Canada," says its members perform half of the abortions done in the country.
"Allowing Congress to practice medicine without a license endangers the lives and health of women," Vicki Saporta, chief executive officer of the NAF, told the Associated Press. "Thankfully, the court understood the gravity of the situation and stopped this law from taking effect."
The first legal ruling in this matter came less than an hour after Bush signed the legislation on Wednesday, when U.S. District Judge Richard Kopf in Nebraska issued an order that applies only to four doctors who together are licensed in 13 states.
Echoing remarks made by President Bush during the signing ceremony on Wednesday, the Justice Department said that it "will continue to strongly defend the law prohibiting partial-birth abortions using every resource necessary."
The law defines partial-birth abortion as "in the case of a head-first presentation, the entire fetal head is outside the body of the mother, or, in the case of breech presentation, any part of the fetal trunk past the navel is outside the body of the mother."
Douglas Johnson, a spokesman for the National Right to Life Committee, said the rulings were "not surprising, but it is distressing."
"Partly born, premature infants will continue to die at the point of seven-inch scissors because of these judicial orders," Johnson commented. "But we believe that this law will ultimately be reviewed by the Supreme Court, where five justices in 2000 said Roe v. Wade guarantees the right to perform partial-birth abortions at will.
"We can only hope that by the time this law reaches the Supreme Court, there will be at least a one-vote shift away from that extreme and inhumane position," Johnson added.
However, pro-abortion activists said they intend to use the new law as a way to influence the outcome of the 2004 presidential election.
"George Bush has crossed a line," said Kate Michelman, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, "and we are going to be working hard to make sure every member of America's pro-choice majority understands the significance."
Signing of Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Escalates Legal Fight (Nov. 6, 2003)
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