Trials on three challenges to the federal ban on "partial birth" abortions were to begin today in federal courts in Lincoln, Neb., New York and San Francisco.
The challenges were filed by the National Abortion Federation, the Center for Reproductive Rights, the Planned Parenthood Federation of America and several physicians. The trials are expected to last between two weeks and four weeks.
Meanwhile, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday upheld a decision quashing a subpoena by U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft for medical records of patients who had late-term abortions at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, Chicago.
Also on Friday, U.S. District Judge Charles Weiner in Philadelphia sided with Hahnemann University Hospital in its challenge of Ashcroft's subpoena, ruling that releasing the records, even without patient-identifying information, would violate patient privacy.
Ashcroft has subpoenaed several hospitals for medical records on late-term abortions performed by the doctors challenging the ban.
Ultimately the fight over the subpoenas could end up before the U.S. Supreme Court because of conflicting regional decisions. Federal judges in New York and Ann Arbor, Mich., have ordered hospitals there to comply with Ashcroft's subpoenas. However, today a judge in the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals put a stay on the New York judge's order.