Gonzales v. Carhart
550 U.S. ____, 127 S.Ct. 1610, 167 L.Ed.2d 480 (2007)

  • The Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act (18 U.S.C. 1531) was signed into law, which banned certain abortion procedures. It was immediately challenged as being unconstitutional based on the opinion in Roe v. Wade (410 U.S. 113 (1973)).
    • 1531 was a response to the decision in Stenberg v. Carhart (530 U.S. 914 (2000) which held that a previous abortion ban was unconstitutional because it did not make an exception for the woman's health.
      • See also Planned Parenthood of Southeastern PA. v. Casey (505 U.S. 833 (1992)), which held that the State has an interest to protect the unborn baby, but that interest must be balanced against the privacy rights of the mother.
    • In 1531, Congress helpfully added some 'findings' to the law stating that they had found partial-birth abortions were never medically necessary, therefore there was no need to include an exception for the woman's health.
    • 1531 Only made an exception for the life of the mother, not just her health. However, it was targeted a much more narrow set of procedures than the law invalidated in Stenberg.
  • In various cases, Federal Trial Courts in California, New York, and Nebraska all declared the law to be unconstitutional. The Federal government appealed.
    • Btw, the Nebraska case was brought by Carhart.
  • The Federal Appellate Courts in the 8th Circuit, the 9th Circuit, and the 2nd Circuit upheld the Trial Courts' decisions that the law was unconstitutional. The Federal government appealed.
    • The problem the courts had was that there was no exception for the health of the mother.
      • The 9th Circuit interpreted Stenberg to require a health exception unless "there is a consensus in the medical community that the banned procedure is never medically necessary to preserve the health of the woman."
    • In addition, the courts found that 1531 was too vague, and left doctors wondering which procedures were banned and which were not.
  • The US Supreme Court reversed and found the law to be constitutional.
    • The US Supreme Court found that 1531 did not impose an undue burden on a woman's right to an abortion based on its overbreadth or lack of a health exception.
      • The law did allow for other types of late-term abortion procedures, so a woman's health was never jeopardized because they could use a different procedure if they needed it.
    • The Court looked back to Roe, which found the abortion decision to be a balancing act between the privacy rights of the mother and the State's interest in preserving the health of the baby. The Court found that for late-term abortions, the balance is in favor of the State's interest.
      • The Court noted that there are alternatives to the banned procedure.
    • The Court found that where medical testimony disputed Congress's findings, Congress is still entitled to regulate in an area where the medical community has not reached a "consensus."
      • Basically, the courts gave deference to Congress' findings about the health of the mother.
    • The Court found that the law as written was not too vague.
  • In a dissent it was argued that the law was unconstitutional because it did not explicitly provide for the health of the woman. In addition, the dissent felt that the law did not further any legitimate government interest.