NATION 3 trials to challenge abortion prohibition



The trials will be marked by expert testimony on both sides.
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- A historic legal battle over abortion begins in courtrooms coast to coast Monday as three federal judges take up requests to derail the first substantial congressional limitation on abortion since the Supreme Court's landmark Roe vs. Wade decision.
The simultaneous litigation centers on legislation President Bush signed last year banning a type of late-term abortion: what lawmakers defined as "partial-birth" abortion and what doctors call "intact dilation and extraction" -- or D & amp;X.
The three trials will be filled with impassioned arguments on whether the law violates constitutional rights, as well as graphic, highly technical and conflicting testimony from medical experts.
"This case is going to be made or lost on the experts," said U.S. District Judge Phyllis Hamilton, who is presiding over the San Francisco litigation.
The National Abortion Federation, Planned Parenthood Federation of America and a handful of doctors sued in San Francisco, New York and Lincoln, Neb., to overturn the law. They say its language could criminalize more common types of abortion and could be a step toward abolishing abortion in the United States.
Viability of fetus
Courts and doctors have construed the 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision to mean abortions can be legally performed until the "point of viability," when a healthy fetus can survive outside the womb. That milestone is usually reached 24 weeks to 28 weeks after conception.
In the outlawed procedure, generally performed before that point in the second trimester and occasionally in the third, a fetus is partially delivered before being killed, usually by puncturing its skull.
The number of the procedures performed annually in the United States is estimated at 2,200 to 5,000, out of 1.3 million total abortions.

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