On November 8, 2006, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in two challenges to the Federal Abortion Ban, also known as the “Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003.”
Filing date: 10/31/2003
Plaintiff(s): Leroy Carhart, M.D., William G. Fitzhugh, M.D.,William H. Knorr, M.D.,And Jill L. Vibhakar, M.D., on behalf of themselves and the patients they serve.
Center Attorney(s): Janet Crepps
Co-Counsel/Cooperating Attorneys: Jerry M. Hug (local counsel)
Summary: On November 8, 2006, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in two challenges to the Federal Abortion Ban, also known as the “Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003.” In both the Center for Reproductive Rights’ case (Gonzales v. Carhart) and Planned Parenthood’s case (Gonzales v. Planned Parenthood), the lower appellate courts had declared the Federal Ban unconstitutional on the basis of well-established legal precedent requiring abortion restrictions to provide an exception whenever needed for the protection of women’s health. , Just seven years earlier, in Stenberg v. Carhart, the U.S. Supreme Court had declared a similar Nebraska law unconstitutional because, like the Federal Ban, it did not contain a health exception. , In the intervening years, the evidence supporting the need for a health exception had not changed. , Nonetheless, in April 2007, the Supreme Court upheld the Federal Ban and effectively overturned 30 years of precedent, signaling that women’s health is no longer a paramount concern for the Court. , The only change that had taken place in the intervening years since Stenberg v. Carhart was in the make-up of the Court, with the departure of Sandra Day O’Connor, who was pivotal in protecting women’s personal freedoms, and the addition of Justices John Roberts and Samuel Alito.
The Center opposed the Federal Ban for many reasons:
- It bans safe and effective abortions, which impermissibly burdens the right to obtain an abortion before viability.
- It fails to make any exception to the ban when a woman’s health is at stake, which violates established constitutional protections that have been in place for 30 years.
- It uses broad language subject to wildly different interpretations that cover steps doctors routinely take in performing abortions in the second trimester, thus making it impossible for doctors to understand exactly what is prohibited.
- Decisions involving pregnancy and medical care should be left to women and their doctors, not politicians.
- It is part of a larger agenda to outlaw all abortions.
The Supreme Court’s decision in this case also paves the way for state legislatures and Congress to enact additional bans on abortions, including those that doctors say are safe and medically necessary.