Our Right to Reproduce – or Not

On April 18, 2007, the United States Supreme Court handed down a five-to-four vote on a case known officially as Gonzalez v. Carhart.  Among the dissenting Justices was Ruth Bader Ginsburg.  In a highly unusual move, Justice Ginsburg read her dissent aloud.  Here is some of what she said:

“Despite our unambiguous ruling [in Stenberg v. Carhart in 2000, which ruled that a Nebraska law making “partial birth abortion” illegal was unconstitutional], Congress passed the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act — without an exception for women’s health, a ban that would operate nationwide. After lengthy trials and thorough review of volumes of medical evidence, each of the District Courts to consider the statute found that it was unconstitutional for the same reason: Significant medical authority identified intact D&E as the safest procedure for some women.

The Court’s opinion tolerates, indeed applauds, federal intervention to ban nationwide a procedure found necessary and proper in certain cases by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. For the first time since Roe, the Court blesses a prohibition with no exception protecting a woman’s health.

The Court asserts that its ruling furthers the government’s interest in “promoting fetal life.” But the Act scarcely furthers that interest, for it targets only a method of abortion. The woman may abort the fetus, so long as her doctor uses another method, one her doctor judges less safe for her. The Court further pretends that its decision protects women. Women might come to regret their physician-counseled choice of an intact D&E and suffer from ‘severe depression and loss of esteem’, the Court worries. Notably, the solution the Court approves is not to require doctors to inform women adequately of the different procedures they might choose, and the risks each entails. Instead, the Court shields women by denying them any choice in the matter. This way of protecting women recalls ancient notions about women’s place in society and under the Constitution — ideas that have long been discredited.

In candor, the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, and the Court’s defense of it, cannot be understood as anything other than an effort to chip away at a right declared again and again by this Court — and with increasing comprehension of its centrality to women’s lives.”