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Va. Abortion Law Goes Into Effect

July 2, 1998

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) _ A disputed state law banning a type of late-term abortion went into effect just hours after it was spared by a federal appeals judge.

Wednesday’s ruling was the first time a federal appeals court has upheld a state law restricting so-called partial birth abortion. Federal appeals failed in Wisconsin and Ohio.

A week ago, U.S. District Judge Robert E. Payne blocked the Virginia law at the request of abortion clinics and doctors. Payne agreed the law was so vague that it would outlaw common abortion procedures.

The order would have kept the law off the books pending a court challenge. But the state attorney general’s office appealed to Judge J. Michael Luttig of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and he reversed Payne’s order.

The new law bans the procedure in which the fetus is partly delivered through the birth canal and then destroyed. Doctors who perform this type of abortion except to save a pregnant woman’s life could be jailed for a year and fined $2,500.

Some abortion providers said they feared Luttig’s action could subject them to prosecution, but they were willing to risk it to stay open.

Suzette Caton, spokeswoman at Norfolk’s Hillcrest Clinic, said she was also relying on the state’s pledge not to prosecute people who perform abortions other than the late-term procedure.

``We’re willing to take the risk that they will not break their word,″ she said.

Abortion providers said they were not sure whether they would appeal Luttig’s decision before their lawsuit challenging the law on constitutional grounds goes to trial Aug. 18.

Twenty-eight states have adopted similar laws since 1995, though courts have blocked enforcement of those laws in 16 of those states.

In Nebraska today, a federal judge ruled that the state ban on late-term abortions is unconstitutionally vague.

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