Key US Supreme Court rulings on abortion

March 2, 2016 1:23 pm
A young anti-abortion activist chants slogans during a march to the US Supreme Court in Washington, DC, on January 22, 2016  © AFP/File
A young anti-abortion activist chants slogans during a march to the US Supreme Court in Washington, DC, on January 22, 2016
© AFP/File

, WASHINGTON, Mar 2 – There a few issues that have roiled American political life as much as abortion.

As the US Supreme Court hears Wednesday one of the most high-profile cases in decades on the issue, here is a list of its most significant rulings since its 1973 landmark decision that legalized the procedure nationwide.

– Roe v. Wade, 1973 –

In a 7-2 vote, the court ruled that a woman’s right to privacy under the US Constitution protects her decision to end a pregnancy, and that regulations to limit abortion must be justified by a “compelling state interest.”

The decision also outlined the legitimate interests of states to protect a pregnant woman’s health and the viability of a fetus at various stages of pregnancy.

In the first trimester, the decision would be left to a woman and her doctor.

The state could regulate abortions in the interest of the mother’s health in the second trimester.

And in the third trimester, when the fetus is considered to be viable, the state could regulate or even outlaw abortions in the interest of protecting potential human life, except when needed to preserve the mother’s life or health.

– Bellotti v. Baird, 1979 –

In an 8-1 vote, the Supreme Court justices ruled that teenagers do not need parental consent in order to have an abortion.

– Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, 1992 –

In a 5-4 vote, the court upheld women’s fundamental right to abortion but introduced a new standard.

Under the test, a state can impose regulations only if they do not pose an “undue burden” defined as placing a “substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion” before the fetus develops to the point of becoming viable.

– Schenck v. Pro-Choice Network of Western New York, 1997 –

The justices ruled that fixed buffer zones were constitutional, preventing protesters from approaching people entering and leaving abortion clinics. The order keeps demonstrators at least 15 feet (4.5 meters) from clinics’ doorways and driveways.

– Stenberg v. Carhart, 2000

In a 5-4 vote, the court found that Nebraska’s ban on so-called “partial birth abortion” late in a pregnant woman’s term violates her right to abortion.

Under the procedure, part of the fetus is removed before it is killed and delivery completed.

The court criticized the ban for failing to include an exception for when a woman’s health is threatened, and because it was unclear about exactly what type of abortion procedure was outlawed.

The justices said the Nebraska law violated the US Constitution’s due process clause, under which the government must operate within the law and provide fair procedures at all levels of government.

– Gonzales v. Carhart, 2007 –

In a 5-4 vote, the court found that the federal Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003 was constitutional.

The justices writing for the majority distinguished this decision from their 2000 ruling because it applied to a more specific partial birth abortion procedure, known as “intact dilation and extraction.”

Despite the court’s precedent in requiring abortion regulations to contain exceptions for a woman’s health, the justices writing for the majority said it was not necessary here because there was “medical uncertainty” as to whether the procedure was ever necessary to protect a woman’s health.

It did, however, leave open the possibility that the ban could be challenged if the procedure was ever shown to be medically necessary.

In the dissenting opinion, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg denounced the “alarming” ruling, warning that it ignored the court’s precedent on abortion cases.


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