Gonzales v. Carhart
On April 18, 2007, the United States Supreme Court ruled, 5-4, to uphold the "Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003." Under this decision, it will be a criminal offense for a physician to perform "dilation and evacuation" procedures used in the second-trimester and in the third-trimester when the physician determines that these are the best procedures medically to prevent damage to the woman's health or future ability to bear children. This is the first time an abortion procedure has been banned since Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973 and the first time that qomen's health (as well as life) was not the paramount concern of the court.
In her dissenting opinion, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg referred to the drastic change from the court's previous decisions. Quoting opinions in two previous abortion cases, she wrote: ''Our obligation is to define the liberty of all, not to mandate our own moral code.'' She also noted that the decision is a "chipping away" of a right protected by previous court decisions. She wrote:
"Today's decision is alarming. It refuses to take Casey and Stenberg seriously. It 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 (ACOG). It blurs the line, firmly drawn in Casey, between previability and postviability abortions. And, for the first time since Roe, the Court blesses a prohibition with no exception safeguarding a woman's health." ("Casey" refers to the Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision of 1992.)
Those upholding the ban were: Chief Justice Robert and Justices Scalia, Alito, Thomas, and Kennedy. Justice Kennedy wrote the opinion. He wrote that the Act does not impose a "substantial obstacle" to late-term but previability abortions and that Congress did not intend it to do so.
The Court also held that the abortion procedure or procedures it was banning could be prohibited because it or they--not the pregnancy--threatened a woman's mental and moral health. In his opinion, Justice Kennedy suggested that the Court was protecting women by banning this procedure and that a pregnant woman who chooses abortion is rejecting true womahood:
"Respect for human life finds an ultimate expression in the bond of love the mother has for her child," he wrote.
Federal courts in three different jurisdictions found the Act to be unconstitutional because it did not include an exception if a woman’s health was in danger. In 2000, the Supreme Court struck down a similar Nebraska ban (in Stenberg v. Carhart) as unconstitutional.
The Court announced that it would hear Gonzales v. Carhart just three weeks after abortion opponent Samuel Alito replaced Sandra Day O'Connor. As a moderate jurist, O’Connor had often cast the deciding vote in favor of abortion rights.
RCRC Challenges Federal Abortion Ban on Religious Grounds
The Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC) has filed an amici curiae brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in Gonzales v. Carhart, challenging the first-ever federal abortion ban on religious grounds and urging the Court to strike it down.
“The Court’s decision in this case will have enormous consequences for every woman in this country, and for the men and children who love and depend on them,” said Reverend Carlton W. Veazey, President and CEO of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. Although opponents of legal abortion claim the law before the Court would ban only one procedure that they call “partial-birth abortion,” the law actually would ban several procedures used early in pregnancy. RCRC informs the Court that many religions oppose such undue restrictions on legal abortion because of their belief that a woman’s health must be protected.
“This case will determine if the law will continue to protect the ability of women to choose the safest abortion procedure in cases where their health is at stake or when their baby has such severe problems that it will die shortly after birth,” Reverend Veazey said.
Fifteen other religious and religiously affiliated organizations, seven Episcopal bishops, other religious leaders and scholars, and the presidents of Andover Newton Theological School, the Pacific School of Religion, and Union Theological Seminary have joined the brief. It says:
“Because protecting the health of women is a core expression of the religious values of amici, amici agree that all women whose health is at risk should be free to seek the safest medical treatment, without governmental coercion or constraint, in making the difficult decision whether to terminate a pregnancy.”
Gonzales v. Carhart will review the constitutionality of the “Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003,” which was passed by both houses of Congress and signed into law by President George W. Bush just three years after the Supreme Court struck down a similar Nebraska ban (in Stenberg v. Carhart) as unconstitutional. The Bush Administration brought the current case to the Court after federal appeals courts in New York, Nebraska, and California declared the ban unconstitutional.
RCRC and the other signatories to the brief urge the Court to recognize “the abundance of religious voices speaking out against the failure of the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003 (the “Act”) to protect women’s health.” The brief asks the court to “not allow Congress to force a moral consensus where there is none, but rather to let the individual women who face the agonizing decision of whether to terminate a pregnancy or risk their own health do so legally, in consultation and accordance with their own conscience and faith.”
Other groups submitting the brief are the American Jewish Committee, Americans for Religious Liberty, the Anti-Defamation League, Disciples for Choice, Disciples Justice Action Network, Episcopal Women’s Caucus, Hadassah-the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, Jewish Reconstructionist Federation, Justice and Witness Ministries of the United Church of Christ, Methodist Federation for Social Action, National Council of Jewish Women, The Rabbinical Assembly, Union for Reform Judaism, United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, and Women of Reform Judaism.
Read RCRC's brief
Scheidler v. National Organization for Women and
Operation Rescue v. National Organization for Women
The Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice filed a friend
of the court brief in support of the National Organization
for Women (NOW)'s case. We argued that free, peaceful and
unrestricted debate on the issue of abortion is a fundamental
aspect of religious and constitutional liberty and cannot
flourish in a society that permits organizations to engage
in violence, threats and fear without restraint.
In its 8-0 ruling today against NOW, the Supreme Court did
not recognize that this case is not only about the safety
of women’s clinics, it is also about the safety of churches
that take pro-choice positions and have pro-choice clergy
and the safety of homes of clergy who are pro-choice. Clergy
are pro-choice religious leaders are also victims of the continuing
pattern of crimes and physical attacks against patients, doctors,
and clinic staff. Those who use threats and violence against
clinics also do so against clergy and churches whose views
they do not like. The court’s decision in this case
leaves these individuals without protection. We believe the
religious freedom issue has not been addressed or even understood
in this decision.
February 28, 2006
Read Our Brief
Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood of
Northern New England: Protecting Women's Health and Safety
Statement of Rev. Carlton W. Veazey, President and CEO
Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice
January 18, 2006
The unanimous decision by the U.S. Supreme Court
in Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood of Northern New England,
et al, affirms the view of many religions that abortion
laws must protect women’s health and safety.
Equally important, the decision makes a powerful statement
about the often harsh and potentially harmful parental involvement
requirements that have been enacted in 44 states. The decision
“It is the sad reality, however, that young women sometimes
lack a loving and supportive parent capable of aiding them
‘to exercise their rights wisely.’” (Footnote
The “Religious” Right crowd should take heed of
this statement. Their ideological and callous views about
parental rights fail to recognize the reality of some teens’
family situation. For years, data has shown that at least
60% of teens do involve their parent or parents in a decision
about abortion and that many of the teens who do not involve
their parents have good reason, including fear of further
abuse and of being forced to leave their home.
Forty-one religious and religiously affiliated organizations
joined in the RCRC friend of the court brief in this case,
filed by the law firm of Covington & Burling. The brief
recognized that, while parental involvement is important,
state-mandated communication has resulted in harm to young
women in some families and strongly urged that parental guidance
be sought voluntarily.
The case began as a challenge to a New Hampshire law that
prevents doctors from performing an abortion for a teenager
under the age of 18 until 48 hours after a parent has been
notified. Contrary to Supreme Court precedent, the law did
not contain an exception to protect a pregnant teenager’s
health in a medical emergency. The lower courts struck down
the law because of this omission. In today’s ruling,
the Supreme Court asked the federal appeals court to consider
whether the New Hampshire legislature intended that the statute
would be susceptible to the remedy of invalidation only to
the extent that it fails to provide a required medical emergency
exception, or whether it would have preferred not statute
at all to one enjoined in this fashion.
RCRC Friend of the Court Brief
The religious organizations’ brief in Ayotte v.
Planned Parenthood of Northern New England explains that
the law unconstitutionally threatens the health and lives
of women and undermines their ability to choose an abortion
in accordance with religious faiths that place great value
on women’s lives and health.
Religions believe life is sacred, and a gift from God, and
that it is a moral responsibility to promote and protect health
and well-being, especially of those who are the most vulnerable.
The New Hampshire Parental Notification Prior to Abortion
Act unconstitutionally restricts the ability of a minor who
may not be able to seek parental involvement or obtain a judicial
bypass to protect her health and even her life when they are
threatened by a pregnancy.
The organizations signing the brief are from Protestant, Jewish,
Unitarian Universalist, and humanist traditions. Pointing
out that the Supreme Court has repeatedly recognized a religious
component of the rights of privacy and of reproductive choice,
they argue that women must be able to follow their religious
beliefs and conscience in making personal moral decisions
about continuing a pregnancy.
"The religious component of the rights of privacy
and of reproductive choice have been repeatedly recognized
in this Court’s opinions, including in cases as old
as Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 268 U.S. 510 (1925),
and as recent as Planned Parenthood of Southeastern
Pennsylvania v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833 (1992). Many Americans
reflect upon their religious beliefs and moral principles
when making important private decisions about family, marriage,
and procreation. The variety of religious teachings and
beliefs about abortion underscores the importance of maintaining
a private sphere – free from undue government interference
– in which women can make choices to protect their
own lives and health in accordance with their faiths and
their consciences. This private sphere extends to minor
women who are faced with pregnancies that threaten their
lives and health. Although amici support and encourage parental
guidance in young women’s major life decisions, including
whether to end a pregnancy, they recognize that state-mandated
parental involvement can sometimes harm the minor, such
as where the family is dysfunctional or where an emergency
medical situation requires an immediate abortion. The Constitution
protects minors from such threats to their lives, health,
and religious beliefs."
All the organizations submitting the brief want teenagers
to have the full support of their families at such a difficult
time. But they recognize that some teens may not be able to
talk to their parents or find a court and a judge who can
give them permission for an emergency abortion. In such cases,
doctors must be able to provide necessary treatment.
Signatories of RCRC Brief
American Ethical Union
American Humanist Association
American Jewish Committee
Americans for Religious Liberty
Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith
Disciples for Choice
Disciples Justice Action Network
Episcopal Women's Caucus
Jewish Reconstructionist Federation
Jewish Women International
Lutheran Women's Caucus
Methodist Federation for Social Action
National Council of Jewish Women, Inc.
Religious Consultation on Population, Reproductive Health
Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice and Healing
Union for Reform Judaism
Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations
Unitarian Universalist Women's Federation
United Church of Christ Justice and Witness Ministries
United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism
Women of Reform Judaism
Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual
RCRC affiliates: Colorado, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan,
Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, Ohio,
Oklahoma, Georgia, Connecticut, New York, Northern California,
Southern California, Texas, West Virginia.
January 19, 2006