The Religious Consultation
on Population, Reproductive Health  and Ethics
 


 revisiting the world's sacred traditions


April 19, 2007

EDITORIALS ON SUPREME COURT ABORTION BAN

Los Angeles Times

EDITORIAL: A U-turn on abortion; Ignoring precedent, the Supreme Court upholds a ban on a procedure that is thankfully quite rare.

TAKING AN important medical choice away from women and doctors, the Supreme Court yesterday upheld a federal law banning the procedure known to opponents as partial-birth abortion. Other laws and court decisions have eroded the right to an abortion established by Roe v. Wade, but yesterday's 5-4 ruling is particularly threatening to that right for two reasons: The court approved the 2003 ban even though it does not allow exemptions based on the woman's health, and the court reversed its own earlier ruling on this procedure, suggesting it might be willing to reverse itself on Roe v. Wade as well.

In 2000, a court majority that included Justice Sandra Day O'Connor struck down a partial-birth abortion ban that did not include an exception for the woman's health. Since then, O'Connor left the court, and President Bush picked Samuel Alito to replace her, tipping the court in favor of the ban. Supporters of a woman's right to an abortion are now deeply concerned that a court with two Bush appointees opposed to abortion rights -- Alito and Chief Justice John Roberts -- might overturn Roe v. Wade altogether. If that happened, 30 states have laws in place that would ban all abortions within their borders.

Of the more than 1 million abortions in the United States each year, nearly 90 percent occur in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy and would not be affected by yesterday's decision. According to the Guttmacher Institute, which specializes in sexual and reproductive health, less than 1 percent of all abortions, or about 2,200 in the year 2000, involved intact dilation and extraction -- the medical term for the procedure in question. Because it limits the risk of bleeding, infections, or a perforation of the uterus that could affect the woman's future fertility, this procedure is endorsed by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, which represents about 90 percent of all physicians in those specialties.

Drawing on the court's decision in 2000 rejecting Nebraska's ban on partial-birth abortions, six federal courts had struck down the 2003 federal law. Yesterday's decision marked the first time the high court had approved a prohibition on a specific abortion procedure. In her dissent, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said, "The court's 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."

The five justices of the court majority and the politicians who passed the law they approved have overruled the best judgment of the doctors who are most informed on this issue. Politics could trump medicine again -- unless backers of abortion rights use the ballot box to steer the country back toward support of a woman's right to end a pregnancy.


Boston Globe

EDITORIAL: An erosion of abortion rights

A pregnant woman generally cannot learn whether a fetus she's carrying has a chromosomal defect such as Down syndrome, or another grave affliction, until after the 12th week of pregnancy.

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court reached deeply into women's lives and took away one medical option they have had to deal with such a wrenching decision.

In a 5-4 decision, the bitterly divided court upheld Congress' 2003 ban on what doctors call "intact dilation and evacuation" and what critics call "partial-birth abortion."

By any name, it is a gruesome procedure. But the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says it has safety advantages, particularly for women with serious medical conditions — it can avert "massive hemorrhaging, serious infection and subsequent infertility."

President Bush and Congress ignored that authoritative opinion from specialists. In 2003, lawmakers substituted their own scientific wisdom, insisting that the procedure "is never necessary." Doctors who performed it could face two years in prison. Bush signed the measure, but it has been tied up in the courts. Now it is the law of the land.

To use Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's word, the ruling is an "alarming" departure from three decades of Supreme Court decisions. It is the first time the court has outlawed a particular abortion procedure. It is the first time the court has failed to require that a restriction contain an exception for the mother's health. And it reflects the departure from the high court of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, the decisive vote in a 2000 ruling that rejected a similar ban in Nebraska.

The decision emboldens abortion opponents to seek new state restrictions, perhaps on other abortion methods that can be made to sound similarly grisly. Or to use the vague language of the 2003 law to press for prosecution of doctors who perform many types of abortions after the 12th week.

What the decision doesn't do — though you might not know it by the overheated reaction of some abortion rights advocates — is wholly upend precedent or directly threaten the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that established abortion rights. Only two of the nine justices say they favor overturning Roe.

The most immediate impact will be on second trimester abortions. In 2001, when the most recent count was done, about 12% of the 1.3 million abortions in the USA were performed after the 12th week of pregnancy, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports abortion rights. It's unclear how many of those are done with the now-banned procedure.

Amniocentesis, the best way to detect fetal abnormalities, is generally performed after the 15th week of pregnancy. About 1,200 physicians throughout the country performed second-trimester abortions in 2001; now those numbers will likely drop, giving women less choice.

Late-term abortions are awful to contemplate, but no matter how sincerely opponents believe the procedure is never medically necessary, that's not based on science. Wednesday's ruling takes the court in a troubling new direction, one that will harm some women or limit their ability to deal with a profoundly personal decision.


USA Today

EDITORIAL: An erosion of abortion rights

Among the major flaws in yesterday’s Supreme Court decision giving the federal government power to limit a woman’s right to make decisions about her health was its fundamental dishonesty.

Under the modest-sounding guise of following existing precedent, the majority opinion — written by Justice Anthony Kennedy and joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito — gutted a host of thoughtful lower federal court rulings, not to mention past Supreme Court rulings.

It severely eroded the constitutional respect and protection accorded to women and the personal decisions they make about pregnancy and childbirth. The justices went so far as to eviscerate the crucial requirement, which dates to the 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade, that all abortion regulations must have an exception to protect a woman’s health.

As far as we know, Mr. Kennedy and his four colleagues responsible for this atrocious result are not doctors. Yet these five male justices felt free to override the weight of medical evidence presented during the several trials that preceded the Supreme Court showdown. Instead, they ratified the politically based and dangerously dubious Congressional claim that criminalizing the intact dilation and extraction method of abortion in the second trimester of pregnancy — the so-called partial-birth method — would never pose a significant health risk to a woman. In fact, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has found the procedure to be medically necessary in certain cases.

Justice Kennedy actually reasoned that banning the procedure was good for women in that it would protect them from a procedure they might not fully understand in advance and would probably come to regret. This way of thinking, that women are flighty creatures who must be protected by men, reflects notions of a woman’s place in the family and under the Constitution that have long been discredited, said a powerful dissenting opinion by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, joined by Justices John Paul Stevens, David Souter and Stephen Breyer.

Far from being compelled by the court’s precedents, Justice Ginsburg aptly objected, the new ruling is so at odds with its jurisprudence — including a concurring opinion by Justice Sandra Day O’Connor (who has now been succeeded by Justice Alito) when a remarkably similar state abortion ban was struck down just seven years ago — that it should not have staying power.

For anti-abortion activists, this case has never been about just one controversial procedure. They have correctly seen it as a wedge that could ultimately be used to undermine and perhaps eliminate abortion rights eventually. The court has handed the Bush administration and other opponents of women’s reproductive rights the big political victory they were hoping to get from the conservative judges Mr. Bush has added to the bench. It comes at a real cost to the court’s credibility, its integrity and the rule of law.


New York Times

EDITORIAL: Denying the Right to Choose

Among the major flaws in yesterday’s Supreme Court decision giving the federal government power to limit a woman’s right to make decisions about her health was its fundamental dishonesty.

Under the modest-sounding guise of following existing precedent, the majority opinion — written by Justice Anthony Kennedy and joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito — gutted a host of thoughtful lower federal court rulings, not to mention past Supreme Court rulings.

It severely eroded the constitutional respect and protection accorded to women and the personal decisions they make about pregnancy and childbirth. The justices went so far as to eviscerate the crucial requirement, which dates to the 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade, that all abortion regulations must have an exception to protect a woman’s health.

As far as we know, Mr. Kennedy and his four colleagues responsible for this atrocious result are not doctors. Yet these five male justices felt free to override the weight of medical evidence presented during the several trials that preceded the Supreme Court showdown. Instead, they ratified the politically based and dangerously dubious Congressional claim that criminalizing the intact dilation and extraction method of abortion in the second trimester of pregnancy — the so-called partial-birth method — would never pose a significant health risk to a woman. In fact, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has found the procedure to be medically necessary in certain cases.

Justice Kennedy actually reasoned that banning the procedure was good for women in that it would protect them from a procedure they might not fully understand in advance and would probably come to regret. This way of thinking, that women are flighty creatures who must be protected by men, reflects notions of a woman’s place in the family and under the Constitution that have long been discredited, said a powerful dissenting opinion by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, joined by Justices John Paul Stevens, David Souter and Stephen Breyer.

Far from being compelled by the court’s precedents, Justice Ginsburg aptly objected, the new ruling is so at odds with its jurisprudence — including a concurring opinion by Justice Sandra Day O’Connor (who has now been succeeded by Justice Alito) when a remarkably similar state abortion ban was struck down just seven years ago — that it should not have staying power.

For anti-abortion activists, this case has never been about just one controversial procedure. They have correctly seen it as a wedge that could ultimately be used to undermine and perhaps eliminate abortion rights eventually. The court has handed the Bush administration and other opponents of women’s reproductive rights the big political victory they were hoping to get from the conservative judges Mr. Bush has added to the bench. It comes at a real cost to the court’s credibility, its integrity and the rule of law.

Back to Top

Send this page to a friend!

Home   About Us   Newsletters   News Archives   Donate