Supreme Court upholds a federal abortion ban

Guess how Alito and Roberts voted.

Published April 18, 2007 3:59PM (EDT)

Well, there you go. Conservatives can complain all they want about the president's performance on same-sex marriage and immigration, but the Bush-stacked Supreme Court -- having just announced its decision to uphold a federal abortion ban -- has officially handed them a giant freaking gift. As the New York Times/AP reports, "The 5-4 ruling [guess who] said the Partial Birth Abortion [sic] Ban Act that Congress passed and President Bush signed into law in 2003 does not violate a woman's constitutional right to an abortion."

Which is funny, because it does. The 2003 law has been struck down by six separate courts as unconstitutional. It carries no exception for health risks to the mother; it's also said to be worded so vaguely as to cover -- at least in chilling effect -- some of the earliest, most common abortion procedures. The procedure it bans in particular is itself not only rare but also necessary in some of the most heartbreaking cases. Just ask the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, or Gretchen Voss. (By the way, anytime the press lazily calls anything other than the original title of this bill "partial-birth abortion," the terrorists win.)

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg pulled few punches in her scathing dissent. "For the first time since Roe, the Court blesses a prohibition with no exception protecting a woman's health," she said. The ban "and the Court's defense of it cannot be understood as anything other than an effort to chip away" -- with "flimsy and transparent justifications" -- "at a right declared again and again by this Court."

"The American public should be absolutely outraged by this unprecedented and dangerous intrusion into the private relationship between a woman and her doctor," said Joan Malin, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of New York City. "Today five men with a gavel -- two of whom were handpicked by George W. Bush -- decided that they know more about medicine than do doctors. We have never before seen such a politically motivated and unwarranted invasion into the private relationship between a woman and her doctor." Planned Parenthood added in a press release that the decision "defies both common sense and established law."

What's not clear yet is precisely how abortion care providers will respond from a practical, medical standpoint; stay tuned for more on that. Meantime: "Planned Parenthood will comply with the law," Malin said. "But our doors are not closed. Abortion is still safe and it is still legal and we are firmly committed to providing health services, including abortion, without interruption. We are here today and I pledge my word that we will be here tomorrow." Here, yes. But something's gone already; this thing's already real. An e-mail from NYC's Planned Parenthood just arrived with the following fine print: "This law may affect a small number of the abortions we provide at Planned Parenthood of New York City."

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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