The George W. Bush administration urged a federal appeals court Thursday to overturn a judge's decision nullifying a congressional ban on a type of late-term abortion.
The case before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is one of three in which federal judges have ruled that the ban is unconstitutional. Last month the Bush administration asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear another of the cases.
The 2003 Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act, which never went into force, bans a procedure carried out in the second trimester in which the living fetus is partly removed from the womb, and its skull is punctured or crushed.
Supporters have said the law would ban relatively few abortions a year, but abortion-rights advocates contend it is vaguely written and could halt almost all second-trimester abortions.
The government argued Thursday that Congress determined the procedure is never medically necessary, and therefore a woman's options for an abortion are not limited.
Judge Sidney Thomas wondered whether Congress' findings "matter at all," given the conflicting testimony of doctors in lower courts. Judge William Fletcher said a doctor may end up performing the banned method during an abortion "in order to do it properly" and "for the health of the woman."
In response, Assistant U.S. Attorney Gregory Katsas said "there are medical arguments on both sides," but the court should defer to Congress' findings.
Planned Parenthood Federation of America attorney Eve Gartner argued that if the act were reinstated, it would have a "significant chilling effect" on doctors, who might stop doing abortions. Violating the law carries a two-year prison term. The court did not indicate when it would rule.
In the case the Bush administration has asked the Supreme Court to take up, another appeals court in July upheld a ruling by a federal judge in Nebraska that the ban is unconstitutional. A third case on the same issue is pending before a New York federal appeals court, AP reports.