U.S. appeals judge upholds Va. ban on late abortions 'Partial birth' ruling breaks with other courts


WASHINGTON -- For the first time, a federal appellate judge has upheld a state law restricting a form of late-term abortion, a ruling that conflicts with findings by other federal judges that struck down similar laws in two other states.

The decision Tuesday by Judge J. Michael Luttig of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upholds a Virginia law enacted in April barring a late-term procedure that opponents call "partial-birth" abortion.

Luttig reversed a federal district judge who had found the law unconstitutional, a ruling consistent with recent appellate court decisions in Ohio and Wisconsin.

Luttig's ruling was hailed by lawyers for the state as well as by people active in the anti-abortion movement who have made abortions in the last trimester of pregnancy a cornerstone of their effort to draw moderates to their side.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs in the case said yesterday that they were considering whether to appeal Luttig's decision to a three-judge panel of the 4th Circuit, to the full circuit or to the Supreme Court.

In arguments before Luttig, the plaintiffs contended that the Virginia law, which is comparable to measures passed in other states and is modeled after legislation twice passed by Congress and twice vetoed by President Clinton, is written so broadly that a majority of abortions could be banned.

Legislation outlawing late-term abortion has been adopted in 28 states since 1995 but remains in effect in only eight -- Indiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah and now Virginia. Three other states -- Alabama, Georgia and Nebraska -- have limited enforcement. Kansas has passed a law banning the procedure, but has not put it into effect.

Legislation that would ban late-term abortions in 16 other states has been blocked by federal or local courts. That includes a ruling yesterday by a federal judge in Louisville, Ky., who said he would prevent a Kentucky law from taking effect on July 15 until he could hear debate on it next month.

In two of the three cases that have reached an appellate court -- Wisconsin and Ohio -- a three-judge panel ruled against the state.

Pub Date: 7/02/98

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