WASHINGTON (AP) – Women who want a controversial abortion procedure for health reasons have few options beyond going to court and trying to prove that a Supreme Court decision banning the practice should not apply.

For women facing serious health risks, that may not be practical.

“The problem with that is it’s not going to be an easy thing for women to invoke,” said Vikram Amar, a professor at the University of California’s Hastings School of Law.

“Because time is of the essence, and litigation takes money and time, the ‘as applied’ route is not as practically feasible.”

The high court on Wednesday upheld the ban except in cases where the woman’s life might be in danger. The justices ruled that an individual – or as-applied – challenge “is the proper manner to protect the woman’s health if it can be shown that in discrete and well-defined instances a condition has or is likely to occur in which the procedure prohibited by the act must be used.”

The ruling applies to an abortion procedure that opponents call “partial birth” abortion.

Of the 1.3 million abortions performed in 2000, the most recent data available, 2,200 involved this procedure, according the Guttmacher Institute.

People on both sides of issue agree that legal action is a woman’s only recourse if she seeks the procedure because of health reasons.

Louise Melling, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s reproductive freedom project, said the decision is “the first time ever the court has upheld a restriction where there isn’t an exception to protect a woman’s health.”

What the ruling did leave open is the possibility of a lawsuit in which a woman could argue that the law is unconstitutional as it applies to her.

“That is troubling and inadequate,” Melling said. “Troubling because it is a radical shift in protection for women’s health and inadequate because doctors concerned about their patient should be allowed to go to the operating room, not the courthouse.”

Douglas Johnson, legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee, said that while the law contains an exception to prevent the death of a woman, “we don’t think, and Congress didn’t think, that that ever would be necessar y.”

“The word health can mean anything,” Johnson said, and the ruling says an individual could bring a challenge in court over a particular case.


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