Abortion rights get another day in court

Questions of parental involvement and clinic harassment could further gut Roe.

Published November 30, 2005 12:43PM (EST)

Today's a big day at the Supreme Court -- and it could be a bad one. At 10 a.m., the court will hear Scheidler et al. v. National Organization for Women et al. and Operation Rescue et al. v. National Organization for Women et al.; and at 11, Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood. Anyone who figures he or she can sit around watching "Tony Danza" or "The View" until something comes up that could "directly threaten Roe" needs to wake up and pay attention right now.

The Scheidler/Operation Rescue cases, initially brought by NOW almost 20 years ago, address the "nationwide pattern of crimes [including] violent assaults and physical attacks on patients, clinic staff, and police, plus destruction of medical equipment, supplies, and other clinic property" wrought by a self-described "pro-life Mafia." At issue: whether such activities violate federal racketeering (RICO) laws. In other words: Clinic "protests" are not "free speech." They are organized crime.

After two decades of what the irony-oblivious LifeSite.net calls "harassing" litigation on NOW's part, "The specific questions now before the Supreme Court concern arcane issues of statutory construction," Martha Davis writes in yesterday's Boston Globe. "However, if the court rules against NOW, it will lift this nationwide injunction against clinic violence, setting the stage for the return of lawless blockades, threats, and worse." (Boston, if you recall, was the site of the 1996 shooting rampage by John Salvi, which left two clinic workers dead.)

Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood, for its part, would be scary enough if it were only about "parental involvement" -- and by parental involvement I mean "callous government interference purely for political gain" -- in minors' abortions. (Ayotte focuses specifically on the necessity of a "health exception" to a parental-notification requirement. As Fran Wendelboe, the New Hampshire state rep who sponsored the bill, told the Associated Press: "We didn't mistakenly forget to put in a health exception. We purposely crafted the bill without an exception.") Nice.

But according to Ms. magazine, "Women's health and rights advocates are also concerned that both the state of New Hampshire and the United States Solicitor General (representing the Bush Administration) are asking the Supreme Court to apply a new legal standard in this case ... They are arguing that no lawsuits should be able to be filed to block enforcement of a new law; rather, the courts should refuse to hear so-called 'hypothetical' cases and should wait until an actual harm has been inflicted on an actual woman." Awesome.

Why are these cases so important? First of all, because Sandra Day O'Connor will likely not be around to rule on them, and second, because it's not about Roe per se. It's about access -- right now -- to the right Roe purports to provide. These are not skirmishes leading up to "the" battle. This is the war. (If you don't believe me, don't read any more of this post until you've read this. Seriously. Read it even if you do believe me. For extra credit, read this.)

OK, now you can watch television.

By Lynn Harris

Award-winning journalist Lynn Harris is author of the comic novel "Death by Chick Lit" and co-creator of BreakupGirl.net. She also writes for the New York Times, Glamour, and many others.

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