Supreme Court Hears Federal Abortion Ban Case Today

The Supreme Court will hear arguments today in two cases that challenge the federal Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, which Congress passed in 2003. Six federal courts across the country have struck down the law, finding it unconstitutional and inconsistent with the Supreme Court’s 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade. The ban (PDF), which proponents claim would only ban late-term abortions, refers to a procedure called dilation and extraction, and could ban most safe and effective abortions for pregnancies as early as 12 weeks, AP reports. Most importantly, the ban has no exception for severe fetal anomalies or for the health of a pregnant woman.

The Feminist Majority Foundation participated in an amicus brief along with the Institute for Reproductive Health Access and 51 other clinics and organizations in support of Carhart and his fellow respondents. The brief (PDF) details the three reasons women generally seek second- and third-trimester abortions: a fetus is found to have grave anomalies, a pregnancy endangers the health or life of a woman, and obstacles delay the access to a first-trimester abortion. The brief also includes personal stories of women who have stepped forward to share their experiences of a second- or third-term abortion, including the reasons for having the procedure and their decision-making process. Abortions after the first trimester are not very common; second-trimester abortions account for about eight percent of all abortions, and third-trimester abortions accounted for less than one percent. These procedures are, however, very necessary for the well-being of women in troubled pregnancies.

In 2000, the Supreme Court struck down a similar state law in Nebraska by a 5-4 vote with Justice Sandra Day O’Connor casting the decisive vote. Like the ban under current consideration, the Nebraskan law also could have included other abortion methods and did not provide an exception for the health of a pregnant woman. With O’Connor retiring and Bush’s two additions to the court, Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. and Justice Samuel Alito, the Supreme Court may reverse this decision and deliver a blow to Roe v. Wade.

Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation, has noted the significant impact this ban could have on women over 35. Amniocentesis, a prenatal test that can identify genetic or chromosomal abnormalities in a fetus, is recommended for women over 35 because of a heightened risk of fetal abnormalities linked to the age of a pregnant woman. This test, which is preformed in the second trimester, can reveal serious complications that could compel a woman to decide to terminate her pregnancy. Without the ability to undergo a safe and legal second- or third-term abortion, women may feel restricted from waiting until later in life to become pregnant.


Partial-Birth Abortion Ban 2003; Institute for Reproductive Health Access et al Amicus Brief 9/20/06; Boston Globe 11/7/06; Chicago Tribune 11/6/06; AP 11/8/06

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