Wash. Times editorial mischaracterized Virginia “partial-birth” abortion law ruled unconstitutional

A June 7 Washington Times editorial decried a ruling in the case of Richmond Medical Center v. Hicks, in which the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down a Virginia “partial-birth” abortion statute. The Times mischaracterized the content of the statute to emphasize supposed differences between it and a Nebraska “partial-birth” abortion law that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional in 2000. Though the Times claimed the Nebraska and Virginia statutes are dissimilar, they are in reality quite alike, and both were ruled unconstitutional for the same reason -- they failed to include an exception that permits the banned procedure when it is necessary to preserve the health of the pregnant woman.

From the June 7 Times editorial:

Unlike a much-discussed Nebraska bill that would have prohibited a number of abortion procedures, this Virginia law focused narrowly on protecting the infant itself as it is being delivered. It allowed several procedures that the Nebraska law would have banned and made an exception for cases where the mother's life is at risk.

The Times falsely suggested that the life exception in the Virginia law made it different from the Nebraska law; in fact, both statutes permitted the otherwise-banned procedure when the woman's life is endangered. But neither statute provided an exception for the health of the pregnant woman, an omission that constituted one of the two bases upon which the Supreme Court struck down the Nebraska law. In striking down the Virginia statute, the 4th Circuit cited the Supreme Court's ruling in the Nebraska case, Stenberg v. Carhart:

We conclude that the judgment of the district court must be affirmed because “the [Supreme] Court ... unequivocally held [in Stenberg v. Carhart, 530 U.S. 914 (2000)] that any ban on partial-birth abortion must include an exception for the health of the mother in order to be constitutional.” [Bracketed portions in original.]

A three-judge panel of the Richmond, Va.-based 4th Circuit struck down the Virginia statute, which made “partial-birth infanticide” illegal by a 2-1 vote, upholding a Virginia District Court's earlier ruling. Judges M. Blane Michael and Diana Gribbon Motz, both Clinton appointees, voted to strike down the statute, with Judge Paul V. Niemeyer, appointed by George H.W. Bush, dissenting.