Wednesday, January 18, 2006


Supreme Court Rules Against Planned Parenthood in New Hampshire Abortion Case

No, Justice O'Connor didn't have a change of heart and overrule her opinion in Planned Parenthood v. Casey (the 1992 case that affirmed Roe), but today's decision in Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood certainly is a victory - albeit a small one - for those who value the sanctity of life. As Justice O'Connor (the author of the unanimous opinion) wrote in the first line of the opinion:

"We do not revisit our abortion precedents today..."

And that is true. In a narrow ruling, the Court decided to give the lower federal courts some flexibility in abortion rulings, whereas they have been (as with this case) declared unconstitutional on their face in their entirety if one section of the statute may be unconstitutional (or, as I editorialize, what the present judiciary feels is unconstitutional under their imagined right of privacy). In this decision, the Court admits that it may not be necessary or justified to invalidate the entire statute, instead favoring "narrower declarative or injunctive relief." The "meat" of the case reads:

"In this case,the courts below chose the most blunt remedy - permanently enjoining the enforcement of New Hampshire's parental notification law and thereby invalidating it entirely. That is understandable,for we,too, have previously invalidated an abortion statute in its entirety because of the same constitutional flaw. In Stenberg,we addressed a Nebraska law banning so-called "partial birth abortion " unless the procedure was necessary to save the pregnant woman's life. We held Nebraska's law unconstitutional because it lacked a health exception. 530 U.S.,at 930 (lack of a health exception was an "independent reason" for finding the ban unconstitutional). But the parties in Stenberg did not ask for and we did not contemplate,relief more finely drawn. In the case that is before us, however, we agree with
New Hampshire that the lower courts need not have invalidated the law wholesale."

This is more than likely O'Connor's final opinion, so it is fitting that it tweaks the enigmatic mystery that is the plurality opinion in Casey. It is also an unusually short opinion, only about 10 pages.

My analysis: Given that New Hampshire's legislature included a severability clause in the parennotificationtion statute, the Court got this one right, looking to the legislation as they should. However, I wouldn't be too joyous. This case is headed back to the 1st Circuit in Boston on remand, and I would imagine that the appellate court will proceed to gut New Hampshire's law. So, in that way, this isn't a huge victory in all that was gained was a new tool in defending abortion restrictions. However, when one takes into account what could have been lost, conservatives can't look at this as anything but a victory.

Probably more interesting is that the decision was unanimous. Forget O'Connor - who brokered the deal with Ginsburg and Stephens to have them sign on to this opinion? Could it have been our new Chief Justice Roberts? If so, this could be a sign that he may bring extraordinary leadership to his new role over the next several decades.

Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?