The Supreme Court re-enters the abortion debate

In a surprise move, the Supreme Court agrees to consider a parental notification case with implications for the constitutionality of abortion laws.

Published May 23, 2005 10:37PM (EDT)

In a further sign that the outcome of the controversy over President Bush's judicial nominees has serious consequences for Americans, the Supreme Court on Monday agreed to review a case on abortion notification laws that could make it even harder for minors to get abortions. The case, "Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood," is part of an acrimonious battle over abortion rights that has escalated in anticipation of Chief Justice Rehnquist's retirement.

New Hampshire state officials are appealing a November 2004 ruling by the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which found the state's parental notification law unconstitutional because it did not provide an exception for cases in which the health of the mother is in danger. (Most states that have parental notification laws do include such exceptions.) In its consideration of the Planned Parenthood case this fall, it's possible the Supreme Court could narrow the circumstances under which a judge might allow a minor to bypass notification laws for health reasons.

It's already difficult for a minor to obtain an abortion in the U.S. without being forced to advise her parents. Forty-four states currently have parental notification laws. In late April, the House passed a bill that would require abortion clinics in states with no such laws to inform the parents of a minor seeking an abortion of her whereabouts. The House bill would also criminalize the act of transporting a minor across state lines to get an abortion -- even a public bus driver who did so could face jail time. The bill does provide an exception to save the life of the mother, but that exception could face a challenge if the Supreme Court rules against Planned Parenthood. The Senate will consider a similar bill later this summer, and President Bush has urged it to pass the legislation as soon as possible, to "help continue to build a culture of life in America.

By Julia Scott

San Francisco-based freelance journalist Julia Scott writes about water and energy issues for various publications. She also covers the environment for Bay Area News Group, a chain of newspapers in Northern California.

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