Supreme Court Agrees to Review Federal Abortion Ban

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New York— Today, the Supreme Court agreed to review Gonzales v. Carhart, the case in which the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit struck down the Federal Abortion Ban, also known as the "Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003." The appellate court held that the act, which would prevent doctors from performing some of the safest procedures starting as early as 12 weeks of pregnancy, was unconstitutional under the Supreme Court’s ruling in Stenberg v. Carhart (2000). In Stenberg v. Carhart, the Court struck down a Nebraska statute similar to the federal law, holding that it was unconstitutional because it did not contain a health exception for circumstances where the banned procedures were safest for the woman.

"For more than 30 years, the Supreme Court has consistently made clear that abortion laws may not endanger women's health," said Nancy Northup, President of the Center for Reproductive Rights. "Supreme Court precedent, not to mention common sense and medical ethics, dictates that a patient’s health is a doctor’s paramount concern."

President Bush signed the Federal Abortion Ban into law in 2003. Immediately thereafter, three lawsuits were filed in federal courts by the Center for Reproductive Rights, the American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Last year, all three trial courts declared the law unconstitutional because it lacked the necessary health exception. Two of the courts, including the district court in Gonzales v. Carhart, also held that the law is unconstitutional because it is so broad that it would outlaw some of the most common abortion procedures performed as early as 12 weeks in pregnancy. The appellate courts in all three cases affirmed the lower courts’ rulings.

"This case provides a perfect opportunity to make clear to Congress and the Bush Administration that they can’t ride roughshod over the law of the land, especially at the expense of individuals’ health and safety," said Priscilla Smith, Director of the Domestic Legal Program at the Center for Reproductive Rights and lead counsel in Gonzales v. Carhart.

The lead plaintiff in Gonzales v. Carhart is Nebraska physician LeRoy Carhart, who the Center for Reproductive Rights also represented in Stenberg v. Carhart. The other plaintiffs are Dr. William G. Fitzhugh, Dr. William H. Knorr, and Dr. Jill L. Vibhakar.

* Read a case history of the struggle against the Federal Abortion Ban > >
* Click here to view our Briefing Paper on So-Called "Partial-Birth Abortion" Ban Legislation: By State > >