Supreme Court to Return to Abortion

The Associated Press
Saturday, November 4, 2006; 10:35 PM

WASHINGTON -- Americans still will be chewing over election results Wednesday morning when the nine Supreme Court justices file into their courtroom for two of the biggest cases of the young term.

Voters in some states will be deciding whether to impose restrictions on abortions; one proposal would outlaw almost all abortions in South Dakota.

In the marble courthouse across the Capitol, this most politically charged of issues also will be under consideration.

The court will be discussing whether to uphold the first nationwide restrictions on an abortion procedure since the justices' landmark ruling in Roe v. Wade in 1973 that established a woman's constitutional right to an abortion.

Almost everything about a procedure opponents call partial-birth abortion is disputed, including how many take place each year and even its name.

Abortion rights advocates call the term an oxymoron that incongruously links abortion and birth as part of a political strategy to chip away at the Roe ruling.

"It's intended to obfuscate and in that, it's been successful," said Dr. David Grimes, the former chief of the government's abortion surveillance program. He now is affiliated with Planned Parenthood of America.

Abortion opponents argue that the name aptly describes "a rarely used and gruesome late-term abortion procedure that resembles infanticide," as the Bush administration said in its legal filings. Most of the procedures, medically known as dilation and extraction abortions, appear to take place in the middle third of pregnancy.

There were 1.3 million abortions in the United States in 2002; all but about 130,000 came in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. The early abortions are not at issue.

Estimates of the late-term abortions at issue range from 2,200 a year to upward of 5,000, although the data is far from precise.

What makes the method "gruesome" for some _ a federal judge who struck down the law also described it that way _ is that it involves partially extracting a fetus from the uterus, then cutting or crushing its skull.

But the dispute is not over whether a woman may end a pregnancy, but how the abortion should be performed.

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