State legislatures in 20 states have passed partial-birth abortion bans, but efforts to implement the laws have been repeatedly stymied by court rulings, primarily at the federal level.

Currently, 11 states are facing court challenges. Ban opponents argue that the definitions of partial-birth abortion are vaguely worded and that an exception based on the health of the mother is needed.

"Until the Supreme Court deals directly with partial-birth abortion, nobody is going to know whether these laws are constitutional or not," suggests Nik Nikas, counsel for Americans United for Life in Chicago.

The Supreme Court seems to be in no hurry to settle the matter. In a 6-to-3 decision on March 23, the justices refused to review a lower court ruling that had invalidated a 1995 Ohio law restricting partial-birth abortion.

Nevertheless, Mary Spaulding-Balch, director of state legislation for the National Right to Life Committee, says partial-birth abortion bans are supported across the political spectrum.

"The momentum has not stopped even though there have been court injunctions," Spaulding-Balch says. State legislatures have overridden gubernatorial vetoes in Alaska, New Jersey, and Florida. In Congress, the issue is expected to be raised a third straight year.

State legislatures began enacting bans following President Clinton's second veto (CT, Oct. 27, 1997, p. 97).

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