By Peter J. Smith

WASHINGTON, D.C., April 25, 2007 ( – The U.S. Supreme Court rescinded two federal appeals courts’ rulings overturning partial-birth abortion laws in Virginia and Missouri on Monday in the wake of its recent decision to uphold the federal ban on the procedure.

The Court returned Herring v. Richmond Medical Center (No. 05-730) to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and Nixon v. Reproductive Health Services (No. 05-1124) to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals asking them to review their respective cases in the light of Gonzales v. Carhart.

Previously the federal courts had overturned the Virginia and Missouri bans on partial-birth abortion citing the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2000 reasoning in Stenberg v. Carhart, which invalidated a similar Nebraska law for lacking an exception for the mother’s “health.”

However Gonzales v. Carhart establishes that laws restricting abortion do not necessarily require an exception for “health” in order to pass constitutional muster. The jurisprudence in Gonzales indicates a departure from the Court’s previous rulings, which since Roe v. Wade’s companion case Doe v. Bolton have required exceptions for the “health of the mother.” Such exceptions were interpreted so broadly by the Court in 1973 as to make abortion on demand the normative practice in the United States and make any governmental restriction on abortion futile.

In writing the majority opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy stated that the “law need not give abortion doctors unfettered choice in the course of their medical practice,” and added that “medical uncertainty over whether the act’s prohibition creates significant health risks provides a sufficient basis to conclude … that the act does not impose an undue burden” for obtaining an abortion.

Legal experts familiar with the 4th circuit court told the Washington Post that the court seems likely to reverse its previous decision. The same panel that voted to overturn the law in 2005 will review the decision as required by the court’s rules.

The Associated Press reports Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon planned to file a motion on Monday asking the federal appeals court to lift the injunction against the state law, which would allow the ban on partial-birth abortion to take effect immediately.

Missouri’s 1999 ban on partial-birth abortions prohibits individuals from causing “the death of a living infant … by an overt act performed when the infant is partially born or born.” The law has never been enforced on account of years of legal challenges from Planned Parenthood Federation of America.