CASES HEARD BY THE SUPREME COURT
The United States Supreme Court has heard two
cases challenging the constitutionality of the federal
Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003.
Oral arguments for both cases were heard by the
Court on November 8, the day after the 2006 elections. The Court's decision to
uphold the ban on partial-birth abortion was handed down on April 18, 2007.
of the Supreme Court's decision to uphold the ban -
pdf format (April 18, 2007)
regarding the Court's decision to uphold the ban
(April 18, 2007)
Comments from Fr. Frank Pavone on the Court's decision to uphold the ban
(April 18, 2007)
Comments from President Bush on the
Court's decision to uphold the ban (April 18, 2007)
More information on the November 8, 2006 oral
Click here to read the oral arguments:
Gonzales vs. Carhart and
Gonzales vs. Planned Parenthood (PDF format)
Click here to listen to the oral arguments
The first case is Gonzales v. Carhart
(Supreme Court Docket No. 05-380) [PDF Format]. If the name Carhart
sounds familiar, it's because Dr. Leroy Carhart, an abortionist, brought suit
against Nebraska's state ban on partial-birth abortions in 1997. That case
resulted in the 2000 Supreme Court decision, Stenberg v. Carhart, striking down
Nebraska's law on a five to four vote. Since then, the Stenberg decision
has resulted in several state partial-birth abortion bans being declared
In this current case, Dr. Carhart and three other abortion providers brought
suit in the federal courts' Eighth District immediately after President George
Bush signed the federal partial-birth abortion ban into law on November 5, 2003.
The question the Court considered here is whether the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban
Act of 2003 is invalid because it lacks a health exception or is otherwise
unconstitutional on its face.
The federal partial-birth abortion law contains an exception for when the life
of the mother is threatened, but no "health" exception. This is because after
nine years of debate, hearings, and evidence examination, Congress found that
partial-birth abortions are never necessary to preserve a mother's health.
Stenberg v. Carhart, however, requires a statute regulating an abortion
procedure to contain a health exception as long as "'substantial medical
authority' supports the medical necessity of [the] procedure in some instances."
Abortionists argue that such medical authority exists even though Congress found
that it doesn't. Gonzales v. Carhart will decide, then, whether a partial-birth
abortion law must contain a "health of the mother" exception. This is a crucial
point, obviously, because the Court in
Doe v. Bolton
defined "health" as including "emotional" and "psychological" factors, meaning
that any abortion would be allowed under a general "health" exception.
The second case before the Court was
Gonzales v. Planned Parenthood
(Supreme Court Docket No. 05-1382) [PDF Format]. This lawsuit was brought by
Planned Parenthood Federation, Planned Parenthood Golden Gate, and the City and
County of San Francisco. Like Gonzales v. Carhart, it was filed immediately
after President Bush signed the federal partial-birth abortion bill into law.
The Supreme Court heard it on appeal from a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals
The questions presented in Gonzales v. Planned Parenthood are the same as the
ones in Gonzales v. Carhart. In addition to determining whether a "health"
exception is necessary in the federal partial-birth abortion ban, the court also
examined if the law is invalid "on its face" (i.e., as it's written).
Abortionists argue that the federal law is ambiguous in its language so that it
may bar other types of abortions besides partial-birth abortions. They say that
this ambiguity constitutes an undue burden on the "right" to abortion and makes
the law unconstitutionally vague.
The two cases are being closely watched for many reasons, not the least of which
is that they will provide a strong indication of how the two newest members of
the Supreme Court, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito, view
abortion and the Constitution. As mentioned above, the Stenberg decision
striking down Nebraska's partial-birth abortion law was a five-to-four ruling.
The swing vote in that case, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, has retired. How
President Bush's two new Justices vote on Gonzales v. Carhart and Gonzales v.
Planned Parenthood will likely be decisive in whether the federal partial-birth
abortion ban will be upheld.
The third case striking down the ban, but not taken
up by the Supreme Court, is
National Abortion Federation v Gonzales (pdf
Click here for
Fr. Frank's reflections on the November 8th oral arguments
Briefs of the Parties (PDF
Government's brief in Gonzales vs. Carhart
brief in Gonzales vs. Carhart
brief in Gonzales vs. Planned Parenthood
Respondents' brief in Gonzales vs. Planned
Oral Arguments (PDF format)
Gonzales vs. Carhart
Gonzales vs. Planned
Amicus curiae (Friend of the Court) briefs
submitted for the November 8 Supreme Court oral arguments:
American Center for
Law and Justice
American Center for
Law and Justice 2
and Dental Association and the Catholic Medical Association
Partial-Birth Abortion Trial