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Gonzales v. Carhart

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Brief Fact Summary.

The Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003 banned abortions involving the partial delivery of a fetus.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act is not unconstitutional, because it did not have the purpose or effect of imposing an undue burden on the right to abortion.

Points of Law - Legal Principles in this Case for Law Students.

Finally, the State may fear that permitting assisted suicide will start it down the path to voluntary and perhaps even involuntary euthanasia.

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Facts.

The Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003 banned abortions involving the partial delivery of a live fetus. It was passed after the Court decided Stenberg v. Carhart. In Stenberg, the Court struck down a state law banning partial birth abortions on the grounds that (1) it did not contain an exception for preserving the health of the pregnant person, as required by Planned Parenthood v. Casey, and (2) imposed an undue burden on the right to abortion. The Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act banned a subset of “dilation and extraction” abortions in which the fetus is extracted intact or largely intact.

Issue.

Was Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act facially void for vagueness, or impose an undue burden on the right to abortion?

Held.

No, the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act was not facially void for vagueness, nor did it pose an undue burden on the right to an abortion.

Dissent.

Justice Ginsburg

Justice Ginsburg argues that the Court’s decision disregards caselaw from Casey and Stenberg. According to her, the Court held in Stenberg that an abortion restriction law was unconstitutional in part because it lacked a health exception. Here, the District Courts relied on extensive reliable evidence showing that the abortions banned by the law had safety advantages, and evidence that the opposing evidence was not as credible.

She also argues that the ban here does not serve the interest in preserving fetal life, because it only bans a specific method of abortion, and does not actual prevent any fetuses from being destroyed.

Justice Ginsburg also finds fault with the fact that the Court self-admittedly relies on moral concerns, arguing that this contradicts precedent. She also argues that the Court’s reliance on the notion that some women certainly regret having abortions because of the bond between mothers and children relies on discredited notions about women. It also contradicts the Court’s current precedent that affirms women’s ability to make autonomous decisions.

Additionally, Justice Ginsburg argues that the Court’s decision contradicts precedent establishing that viability is a critical consideration in the right to an abortion. The Court’s decision undermines this, because the law at issue applies to previable and postviable fetuses.

Discussion.

The statute was not facially void for vagueness, because it sufficiently defined the line between criminal and lawful abortion procedures.

The statute also did not impose an undue burden on the right to abortion. In Stenberg v. Carhart, the Court struck down a state law banning partial birth abortions on the grounds that (1) it did not contain an exception for preserving the health of the pregnant person, as required by Casey, and (2) imposed an undue burden on the right to abortion. Here, the Court held that the statute would be unconstitutional if its purpose or effect was to place a substantial obstacle in the path of someone seeking an abortion before the fetus is viable. Planned Parenthood v. Casey. The government’s interest was respect for the dignity of human life, which is a valid governmental objective under Casey. The law’s ban on abortions involving partial delivery of a live fetus served this objective, and was not overbroad. According to the Court, the interest in respect for the dignity of human life is served by the law in part because some women probably regret their decisions to have abortions, and abortion providers might choose to omit the details of the abortions at issue here. This lack of information could lead to more late-term abortions.

The fact that there was medical uncertainty as to whether the ban would pose a significant health risk to people seeking abortion did not allow the Court to override legislative discretion.


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