Supreme Court Upholds Federal Abortion Ban

By Christine Cupaiuolo — April 18, 2007

The Supreme Court today upheld the federal abortion ban approved by Congress and signed into law in 2003, even though there is no exception for protecting a woman’s health. The decision can be read here (PDF).

Opponents of the so-called Partial Birth Abortion Act ”have not demonstrated that the Act would be unconstitutional in a large fraction of relevant cases,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the 5-4 majority opinion. Kennedy was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia.

“Thomas and Scalia wrote separately to reiterate their view that the Constitution doesn’t protect abortion rights,” according to Bloomberg.

Justices Stephen Breyer, David Souter and John Paul Stevens joined Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in the dissent.

”Today’s decision is alarming,” Ginsburg wrote. “…For the first time since Roe, the court blesses a prohibition with no exception safeguarding a woman’s health.”

Ginsburg read a summary of her opinion from the bench and said the majority opinion “cannot be understood as anything other than an effort to chip away a right declared again and again by this court, and with increasing comprehension of its centrality to women’s lives.”

The opinion ”tolerates, indeed applauds, federal intervention to ban nationwide a procedure found necessary and proper in certain cases by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists,” said Ginsburg.

From the Associated Press:

Abortion rights groups as well as the leading association of obstetricians and gynecologists have said the procedure sometimes is the safest for a woman. They also said that such a ruling could threaten most abortions after 12 weeks of pregnancy, although government lawyers and others who favor the ban said there are alternate, more widely used procedures that remain legal.

The outcome is likely to spur efforts at the state level to place more restrictions on abortions.

”I applaud the Court for its ruling today, and my hope is that it sets the stage for further progress in the fight to ensure our nation’s laws respect the sanctity of unborn human life,” said Rep. John Boehner of Ohio, Republican leader in the House of Representatives.

Said Eve Gartner of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America: ”This ruling flies in the face of 30 years of Supreme Court precedent and the best interest of women’s health and safety. … This ruling tells women that politicians, not doctors, will make their health care decisions for them.” She had argued that point before the justices.

More than 1 million abortions are performed in the United States each year, according to recent statistics. Nearly 90 percent of those occur in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, and are not affected by Wednesday’s ruling.

Six federal courts have said the law that was in focus Wednesday is an impermissible restriction on a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion.

RH Reality Check says it will have more on the case today. Reproductive Rights Blog is also tracking the story., a Planned Parenthood website, shows the ban’s legislative history and legal timeline and features the legal documents leading to this case.

For a very personal look at how the abortion procedure banned today will affect women’s health and decisions they make with their doctors, read “My Late-Term Abortion,” by Gretchen Voss. Her story was published in the Boston Globe and reposted with permission at our website.

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