Supreme Court to Hear Arguments Against a Federal Law That Would Ban Some of the Safest Abortions as Early as 12 Weeks in Pregnancy

At Issue – Will the Court Protect Women’s Health and Uphold Established Legal Precedents?

Today, one day after the mid-term elections, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear the Center for Reproductive Rights' challenge to the Federal Abortion Ban, also known as the "Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003." This case will be a test of the new Roberts-led Supreme Court; will it follow law that restrictions on abortion may not endanger women's health.

In the case, Gonzales v. Carhart, both trial and appellate courts declared the ban unconstitutional citing 30 years of established law, including the Court's own decision invalidating a nearly identical state law the Center challenged just six years ago. In the June 2000 case, Stenberg v. Carhart, the Supreme Court found that abortion ban unconstitutional because it failed to provide protections for women's health. The Court's decision exposed so-called "partial-birth abortion" bans for what they are: extreme and deceptive bans that jeopardize women's health by prohibiting a wide range of the safest and most commonly used abortions performed in the second trimester as early as 12-15 weeks of pregnancy.

"Nothing has changed since the 2000 decision. No new facts have emerged. The only change has been in the make-up of the Court," said Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights. "This case is about whether the new Roberts-led Supreme Court will follow 30 years of settled law that restrictions on abortion may not endanger women's health. This case is part of the far right wing agenda to erode Roe v. Wade step by step. We're not surprised when politicians are driven by ideology. But we expect the Court to be guided by a higher principle - the Constitution."

The Center will make several arguments before the Court in opposition to the Federal Abortion Ban:

  • The law would ban safe and effective abortions as early as 12-15 weeks.
  • The law fails to provide any exception to the ban when the woman's health is at stake. A health exception is necessary to ensure that women can obtain the procedure that her physician believes is the safest for her.
  • The ban does not use medical definitions or describe one specific method of abortion. Instead it uses broad language subject to wildly different interpretations that cover steps doctors routinely take in performing abortions in the second trimester.

Many distinguished individuals and organizations have submitted friend-of-the-court briefs to the court in opposition to the ban, including: American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists; American Medical Women's Association; American Public Health Association; Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice and 34 other religious and religiously-affiliated organizations, individual clergy and theologians; former high-ranking federal prosecutors; and fifty-two Members of Congress.

The case will be argued by Priscilla Smith, Director of the Domestic Legal Program at the Center for Reproductive Rights. Co-counsel includes staff attorneys Janet Crepps and Nan Strauss.

The Center for Reproductive Rights is a nonprofit, legal advocacy organization that promotes and defends the reproductive rights of women worldwide. Founded in 1992, the Center has defined the course of reproductive rights law in the United States with significant victories in courts across the country, including two landmark cases in the U.S. Supreme Court: Stenberg v. Carhart (2000) and Ferguson v. City of Charleston (2001). The Center now carries the largest caseload of any pro-choice organization in the country. Internationally, the Center has strengthened reproductive health laws and policies by working with more than 50 organizations in 44 nations including countries in Africa, Asia, East Central Europe, and Latin America and the Caribbean.