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
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
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
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.