Wednesday, April 18, 2007


A sharply divided Supreme Court did April 18 exactly what many pro-lifers hoped and what many abortion-rights advocates feared it would: It upheld, for the first time, a nationwide ban on a specific abortion procedure.

In a 5-4 decision, the court upheld a federal law banning a procedure that opponents label "partial-birth" abortion. In the two combined cases -- Gonzales v. Carhart (No. 05-380) and Gonzales v. Planned Parenthood (No. 05-1382) -- the majority disagreed with lower federal courts that said the ban was unconstitutional because it was too vague and did not allow exceptions to protect the mother's health.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority, said, "There is documented medical disagreement whether the act's prohibition would ever impose significant health risks on women .... The question becomes whether the act can stand when this medical uncertainty persists. The court's precedents instruct that the Act can survive this facial attack."

But Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, writing for the minority, called the decision "alarming" and said the ruling "refuses to take [the court's precedents on abortion rights] seriously. It 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."

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