Court sends abortion law back for repairs

Pro-choicers say todays Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood ruling could be worse.

Published January 18, 2006 6:38PM (EST)

Enjoy this while it lasts: The Supreme Court has ruled that abortion laws must protect women's health and safety.

At least that's the way that abortion advocates are gamely trying to spin today's fuzzy ruling. Wednesday, in a unanimous decision penned by, sigh, Sandra Day O'Connor, the court said that (as the New York Times put it) "lower courts were wrong to declare a New Hampshire abortion law unconstitutional in its entirety" and that they should instead "look for a less drastic way to repair the statute's flaws." The case in question is Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood, and at issue -- among other things -- is the lack of a health exception to a parental notification requirement.

By sending the law back for repairs, the court avoided revisiting or affirming precedent. (Yeah, best to wait 'til O'Connor's out of the picture.)

The court's action is -- in part -- a victory for the Bush administration, who had argued on behalf of New Hampshire's attorney general that, as the court ultimately decided, the lack of a health exception doesn't mean you have to throw the unborn out with the bathwater.

But abortion-rights advocates do see a significant silver lining in the court's decision. In a joint Planned Parenthood/ACLU press release, Jennifer Dalven, deputy director of the ACLU's Reproductive Freedom Project and the attorney who argued the case, said, "Today's decision tells politicians that they cannot jeopardize women's health when they pass abortion laws."

By Lynn Harris

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

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