Broadsheet just got off a media conference call with the ACLU, the National Abortion Federation and the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. The topic: the latest abortion-rights nail-biter. On Friday, the Supreme Court is scheduled to consider whether to review Gonzales v. Carhart (né Ashcroft v. Carhart), in which the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals held the federal abortion ban to be unconstitutional. The court will announce its decision on Monday.
Wait. There's a federal abortion ban? Not yet, though if you live in South Dakota or Mississippi there might as well be. The "ban" refers to the first federal law -- passed by Congress and signed by President Bush in 2003 -- effectively banning abortions as early as 12 to 15 weeks in pregnancy. According to the officials on the call, Congress made it appear as if the proposed restrictions were narrowly defined; the law that wound up on the books, however, is so vague as to cover some of the earliest, most common abortion procedures. (Congress, they said, also "found" that there was "medical consensus" that including a health exception for the woman in such laws was "never medically necessary.") Lawsuits against the ban were immediately filed; three federal judges blocked enforcement as the cases proceeded.
In all three cases, courts declared the ban unconstitutional, citing the Supreme Court's 2000 decision in Stenberg v. Carhart, which struck down a Nebraska abortion ban modeled on the federal ban. (The ban was first passed by Congress in 1995 and vetoed by President Clinton in 1996.) The issues: the broad language ruling out some of the most common and safest forms of abortion, and the lack of a health exception for the woman.
The position of the officials on the call (Vicki Saporta, president and CEO of the National Abortion Federation; Janet Crepps, staff attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights; Eve Gartner, senior staff attorney at Planned Parenthood Federation of America; and Talcott Camp, deputy director of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project) is that the Supreme Court's ruling in Stenberg -- on the same issues -- is already so clear that they need not take up Carhart at all. "They may take the case in order to make clear that the constitutional protections afforded to women's health through its abortion case law cannot be undermined by Congress making 'findings' contrary to medical authority," said Gartner. "We dont believe the court should take the case, but if it does, we hope it will use the opportunity to make that clear."