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News | Vermonters react to U.S. Supreme Court ruling on abortion

By Shay Totten | Vermont Guardian

Posted April 18, 2007

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court today upheld the federal law banning so-called partial birth abortions by a 5-4 vote, marking the first time since Roe v. Wade that limits have been placed on abortion rights.

The court ruled in the cases Gonzales v. Planned Parenthood and Gonzales v. Carhart.

The ban, passed by Congress and signed by Pres. George W Bush in 2003, criminalizes some abortions in the second trimester of pregnancy.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing the majority opinion in Gonzalez v. Carhart, said the law's opponents "have not demonstrated that the act would be unconstitutional in a large fraction of relevant cases."

Also voting in the majority were Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia, and Clarence Thomas.

Voting in the minority were Justices Paul Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, David Souter, and John Paul Stevens.

“We are, of course, very grateful that the US Supreme Court upheld the federal ban on partial birth abortion and that, as of today, it is no longer legal for abortionists to perform this particularly gruesome procedure on any unborn baby in any state in America,” said Mary Hahn Beerworth, of the Montpelier-based Vermont Right to Life Committee.

Officials with Planned Parenthood of Northern New England (PPNNE), based in Williston, decried the ruling.

“This ban was driven by anti-choice politics, and does not respect women’s health,” said Nancy Mosher, president and CEO of PPNNE. “While the Bush administration has been appointing justices to the Supreme Court who threaten women’s health, Planned Parenthood has been focused on our top priorities: the health and safety of our patients. We will work to ensure women are provided with the best and safest possible care under this law.”

Seven years ago, the Supreme Court struck down a similar abortion ban enacted in Nebraska because it did not contain a health exception. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor providing the swing vote that shot down the law. O’Connor later retired and was replaced on the court by Alito.

“The new Bush court turned its back on women’s health and safety,” said Mosher. “Americans need Supreme Court justices who commit to the importance of women's health."

That was the sentiment shared by Vermont’s lone congressman — U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, a Democrat.

"Even while the matter of choice has been reaffirmed by the courts time and again, today's United States Supreme Court ruling demonstrates that under this president and his ideological court appointees, a woman's right to choose is in jeopardy,” said Welch. “The court today upheld legislation passed by an out-of-step Republican Congress without a critical health exception, imposing an undue burden on the best interest of a woman's health. I do not believe the courts or politicians should impose their view on what is inherently a personal medical decision. That is a matter of choice that should be firmly between a woman and her doctor."

A spokesman for U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent, said the state’s junior senator, was also troubled by the ruling.

"Senator Sanders believes that abortion is a decision that should be made by women in consultation with their physicians and he disagrees with the Supreme Court," said Michael Briggs.

In the majority decision, Justice Kennedy wrote, "The Act proscribes a method of abortion in which a fetus is killed just inches before completion of the birth process. Congress determined that the abortion methods it proscribed had a 'disturbing similarity to the killing of a newborn infant.’”

Kennedy wrote that a general ban on the method is permissible and does not violate the rights enunciated in past decisions such as Roe v. Wade (1973) and Casey v. Planned Parenthood (1992).

“Where it has a rational basis to act, and it does not impose an undue burden, the State may use its regulatory power to bar certain procedures and substitute others,” Kennedy added, “all in furtherance of its legitimate interests in regulating the medical profession in order to promote respect for life, including the life of the unborn.”

When Bush signed the federal abortion ban in 2003, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Planned Parenthood Golden Gate, the Center for Reproductive Rights, the National Abortion Federation, and the American Civil Liberties Union challenged it in federal district courts around the country.

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