After the Senate’s March 13 vote in favor of a ban on so-called “partial birth” abortions, outraged women’s rights groups vowed to fight the law, and pointed to the importance of court nominees.

National Organization for Women President Kim Gandy called the bill “a political game and an attempt to send us back to pre-Roe days when countless women died from illegal abortions.”

She spoke harshly of the rhetoric used in the debate. “You won’t find the term ‘partial birth abortion’ in any medical dictionary – instead try looking for it in the ultraconservative rhetoric manual,” Gandy said. “Contrary to what opponents of abortion rights would have you believe, this bill is not about a specific late-term procedure. This bill, like each of its predecessors, is purposely worded so vaguely that it could criminalize even some of the safest and most common abortion procedures after twelve weeks and well before fetal viability.”

The ban, introduced by Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Penn.), is not supported by the American Medical Association, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists or the American Medical Women’s Association. “This legislation has nothing to do with the best interests of medicine or women’s health. In fact, this ban does not even include a constitutionally required exception to preserve the health of the woman,” Gandy said.

Kate Michelman, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said that the result of the vote was that “the women of America lost critical freedoms.”

Michelman continued, “This legislation not only endangers women’s health, but is unconstitutional, deceptive, and dangerous. And it is only the beginning of a coordinated strategy to rollback a woman’s right to choose and insert government into our private lives.”

Both Gandy and Michelman pointed to the unconstitutionality of the bill. It is similar to the Nebraska law that was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in the 2000 Stenberg v. Carhart case. “Anti-choice Senators simply ignored Supreme Court precedent and voted to criminalize safe abortion procedures,” Michelman said.

The bill is expected to easily pass the Republican-controlled House, and Bush has already promised to sign it. However, the legal challenge will begin as soon as it’s signed. Planned Parenthood will file suit as soon as the bill is signed. I mean that minute,” Planned Parenthood President Gloria Feldt told The New York Times.

But groups warn that the outcome of a Supreme Court case is tied to court nominees. A vacancy is expected in June, when the court recesses for the Summer. The approval of an anti-choice nominee could tip the scale of an already narrowly divided Supreme Court.

Some Senators acknowledged this strategy from the floor of the Senate during debate.

The Senate vote came in the middle of a Democratic filibuster on the nomination of Miguel Estrada to the federal appeals court. Estrada, who has refused to tell the Senate his views on key issues, was nominated earlier in Bush’s presidency, but the nomination was rejected by the then-Democrat-controlled Senate. Since the right-wing took the Senate in November, Bush has renominated Estrada as well as Priscilla Owen to a federal appeals court.

Abortion rights groups are mobilizing to support the current filibuster, and are opposing the Owen nomination.

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