IN THE NEWS
The Supreme Court and the Future of Reproductive Rights
October 31, 2005
On October 31, President Bush nominated Samuel Alito, a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, to replace retiring Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. Justice O’Connor has said she will remain on the Court until her successor has been confirmed.
Judge Alito was the lone dissenter on the issue of spousal notification when the Third Circuit considered Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey in 1991. He voted to uphold a provision in the Pennsylvania law that required married women to notify their husbands prior to obtaining an abortion. The Supreme Court later ruled the spousal notification provision unconstitutional, holding that a state cannot give a man control over his wife. “Women do not lose their constitutionally protected liberty when they marry,” wrote Justice O’Connor in the majority opinion.
A major abortion case, Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, is already on the Supreme Court’s docket for late fall. This case involves a New Hampshire law that bars doctors from providing abortions to minors until 48 hours after a parent has been notified. Two lower federal courts have ruled the law unconstitutional because it does not contain an exception for cases in which the delay might threaten a young woman’s health. When the ruling on this case is issued, probably early next summer, the newly constituted Court will likely rule on the degree to which the states and the federal government must protect a woman’s health when they enact laws that restrict access to abortion services. While this case might not reverse the Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which gave American women the right to obtain an abortion, actual access to safe abortion services is very much at stake.
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O’Connor’s views on health exceptions in laws restricting abortion and the health exception cases that could soon reach the Court