Virginia Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Falters in Appeals Ruling

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A federal appeals court in Richmond blocked Virginia's ban on partial-birth abortions yesterday, citing the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that struck down a similar Nebraska law.

The decision does not strike down the Virginia law, but it allows a lower court's stay to go into effect, which means that the state cannot enforce its ban. Blocking the ban was the only issue the court addressed with yesterday's decision, but it leaves Virginia's law on shaky constitutional ground.

That likely sets the stage for Attorney General Mark L. Earley to withdraw the appeal, officially invalidating the law. Mr. Earley seemed ready to do so yesterday.

"Given today's decision by a panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, it is obvious that any hope of banning partial-birth abortions in Virginia will require new legislation," Mr. Earley said in a statement, in which he pledged to work on a new law.

Virginia's General Assembly passed the law in 1998, banning a late-term procedure - called dilation and extraction but commonly known as partial-birth abortion - in which the fetus is partially delivered before a doctor pierces its skull with scissors and sucks out its brain through a tube.

A U.S. District Court judge in Richmond ruled it unconstitutional last year. The state appealed to the 4th Circuit, which agreed to hear the state's case. A three-judge panel put the lower court decision on hold, allowing the ban to stay in effect.

But the future of the ban was in doubt after a similar law elsewhere was struck down last month.

The U.S. Supreme Court on June 28 ruled 5-4 in Stenberg vs. …