WASHINGTON - With President Bush widely expected soon to sign the first federal law prohibiting a specific abortion procedure, opponents filed three suits yesterday seeking to overturn the imminent ban on the grounds that it would be overly broad and unconstitutional.
The suits, filed by three advocacy groups in U.S. district courts in Nebraska, San Francisco and the Southern District of New York, amount to an unusual pre-emptive strike against Bush, who is not expected to sign the measure until Wednesday. Experts say legal challenges before a bill becomes law are rare.
The plaintiffs said they wanted to move aggressively to block the measure, so that doctors would not be put in the position of performing the abortions under the threat of criminal penalty.
"We have to take every step we can to intervene before this dangerous bill becomes a law," said Gloria Feldt, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, which filed the San Francisco suit on behalf of its affiliate there.
"We may have only hours to spare when he actually signs it, and we just can't take the risk that our doctors and patients can be uncovered."
The other plaintiffs are the Center for Reproductive Rights and the National Abortion Federation, which represents abortion providers.
The bill criminalizes a procedure sometimes used to terminate pregnancies after the first trimester.
Doctors call it intact dilation and extraction. Critics call it partial-birth abortion.
People on both sides of the debate say that Bush's signing of the bill will be a turning point in the 30-year history of Roe vs. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion.
Specifically, the measure prohibits an "overt act" to "kill the partially delivered living fetus."
Opponents contend that the language is so broad as to ban the most common techniques used in the second trimester of a pregnancy and argue that the ban would be unconstitutional because it lacks an exception for the pregnant woman's health.
The Supreme Court struck down a similar ban that Nebraska enacted three years ago.