'Partial-Birth' Abortion Ruling a Mistake: Physicians

Furthermore, Dr. Ronald Gibbs, chairman of the department of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, said that the ruling opposes the "position taken by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, which indicates that, under certain circumstances, the dilation and extraction procedure is the best one for a women's health."

Future Implications

Many doctors say the ruling could have big implications for the future of abortion rights and women's health.

"I think the most profound concern is that it's going to spawn another epidemic of legislation at the state and local level," said Grimes.

"Every day spent on this will take away from attention on more important medical issues. Nobody has ever identified that this intact dilation and extraction is a medical problem."

Lupi said she is also concerned that the ban could have a disproportionate effect on poor women.

"Limiting second trimester access will also have greater impact on poor women in the many states with Medicaid programs that do not pay for abortions or only under very narrow circumstances," she said. "Poor women tend to have abortions in the second trimester for many reasons, including the time needed to obtain funds."

However, the impact that this ruling will ultimately have on abortion practices remains to be seen. Lupi said she worries that physicians may limit or even stop offering services completely.

"Many providers of second trimester abortion have already stated that they may stop offering services, not because their surgical abortions usually entail the poorly defined 'partial-birth abortion,' but because an unsympathetic observer may occasionally construe their observation of the procedure as such and initiate prosecution," she said.

On the other hand, the ruling could have little practical effect. Grimes anticipates that doctors will continue to perform the procedure due to a possible loophole in the law.

"It says that to intend to do an intact dilation and extraction is illegal," he said. "If you do an intact dilation and extraction inadvertently, that is OK? How does one determine intent after the fact? Who is going to be monitoring this?"

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