On November 30, 2005, the Supreme Court will hear argument in Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, a case involving a New Hampshire law that prevents doctors from performing an abortion for a young woman under 18 until 48 hours after a parent has been notified. The law prevents a doctor from treating his or her patients, even when a medical emergency threatens their health.
The case is not about whether states may require a parent’s involvement. The Supreme Court has said that states can do so. Rather, the case is about whether these laws must allow physicians to protect their patients’ health by acting immediately in an emergency. The undisputed facts in the case show that without this ability to treat patients facing such emergencies immediately, young women will face real risks to their health, including infertility, vision loss, and permanent kidney or liver damage.
In addition to arguing that these restrictions do not need to contain an emergency exception to protect women’s health, New Hampshire and the Bush administration argue that doctors and their patients should not be allowed to challenge the lack of an emergency exception until the patient is actually facing the emergency. But women who are facing emergencies, such as pregnancy-induced hypertension that should be treated immediately before it progresses into a life-threatening condition, should not be required to find lawyers and go to court when they really should be in a hospital receiving medical care.
Currently, American women expect their doctors to put their health first when they are seeking an abortion. And thanks to thirty years of abortion jurisprudence, that expectation has been protected under the U.S. Constitution. But now in Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood, New Hampshire and the Bush administration have asked the Court to throw out that standard, and adopt a standard that would, in effect, forbid doctors from protecting their patient’s health first and foremost.
For years, the Supreme Court has taken seriously its duty to protect individuals from permanent harm to their health. The proposed Bush standard not only callously robs women of that constitutional protection, but also seriously intrudes upon the constitutional right of each American woman to have some control over her destiny by deciding herself when, and if, she will bear a child.