U.S. Supreme Court Hears Argument in Federal Abortion Ban Challenges

ACLU and National Abortion Federation Call on Court to Hold Women’s Health Paramount

The U.S. Supreme Court heard argument today in two legal challenges to a federal ban on abortion. The American Civil Liberties Union and the National Abortion Federation (NAF) submitted friend-of-the-court briefs in each of the cases. Both organizations have called on the Court to hold women’s health paramount by affirming lower court decisions striking down the ban.

“This is a dangerous and broad ban prohibiting abortions as early as 13 weeks in pregnancy – abortions that doctors say are safe and among the best to protect women’s health,” said Vicki Saporta, NAF President and CEO. “Politicians should not legislate medical decision-making; women should be able to make decisions and receive care based on their individual circumstances.”

Before the Court today were two challenges to the federal abortion ban, called the “Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act” by its sponsors: Gonzales v. Carhart, brought by the Center for Reproductive Rights on behalf of Dr. LeRoy Carhart and three other physicians and decided by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit in July 2005, and Gonzales v. Planned Parenthood Federation of America, brought by Planned Parenthood Federation of America on behalf of its affiliates throughout the country and decided by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in October 2005. Both circuit courts struck down the ban because it fails to protect women’s health. In addition, the Ninth Circuit found that the ban prohibits an array of safe abortion methods.

A third challenge to the federal abortion ban, NAF v. Gonzales, was brought by NAF and seven individual physicians, represented by the ACLU, Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP, the ACLU of Illinois, and the New York Civil Liberties Union. In January 2006, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed that the ban requires a health exception and asked for further legal briefing to determine how to remedy the violation. That case is now on hold as the other two cases go before the Supreme Court.

“Only six years ago, the Supreme court struck down a nearly identical ban because it endangered women,” said Louise Melling, Director of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project. “We are hopeful the Court will follow its own lead and stop this sweeping ban.”

Medical groups, including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, oppose the federal ban.

Congress passed the federal ban and President Bush signed it into law in 2003, despite numerous court decisions striking down similar state bans, including the decision in 2000 by the Supreme Court in Stenberg v. Carhart. Courts have consistently struck down the bans for two reasons: their broad language prohibits abortions as early as 13 weeks in pregnancy, and they lack exceptions to protect women’s health.

Today’s cases are Gonzales v. Planned Parenthood Federation of America, No. 05-1382 and Gonzales v. Carhart, No. 05-380.

NAF is the professional association of abortion providers in the United States and Canada. NAF members care for more than half the women who choose abortion each year in the United States and work at clinics, doctors’ offices, and hospitals throughout the country, including premier teaching hospitals.

The ACLU is our nation’s guardian of liberty, working daily in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States. The NYCLU is the New York affiliate of the ACLU.

For more information, visit: www.aclu.org/reproductiverights and www.prochoice.org.

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