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Supreme Court hears partial-birth abortion ban arguments

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] heard oral arguments [transcript, PDF; additional transcript, PDF] Wednesday in the consolidated cases of Gonzales v. Carhart [Duke Law case backgrounder; merits briefs], 05-380, and Gonzales v. Planned Parenthood [Duke Law case backgrounder; merits briefs], 05-1382, which challenge the constitutionality of the federal prohibition of partial-birth abortions [JURIST news archive]. Proponents of the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003 [PDF text] argue that the legislation prohibits only a small percentage of abortions and does not infringe the right to an abortion. Pro-choice challengers contend that the act's overbreadth and vagueness create the potential for the government to prevent legal abortion methods performed during the first trimester. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg asked several questions suggesting a concern over the reach of the law, but Solicitor General Paul Clement [official profile] denied the possibility of infringing the right to an abortion, characterizing the methods prohibited under the act as "rarely-used" and "gruesome." The justices, who are revisiting the abortion issue for the first time since the appointments of Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito, also speculated whether they are required to defer to Congress' legislative findings that partial-birth abortion is never necessary to protect the woman's health, a requisite provision for any abortion restriction. Alito's vote is expected to be pivotal since his predecessor, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, voted to strike down a Nebraska law banning the same late-term procedure in the 5-4 decision [text] in Sternberg v. Carhart, handed down in 2000. Justice Clarence Thomas did not attend Wednesday's arguments due to illness.

On Tuesday, voters in several states voted no to restrictions on abortion [JURIST report]. South Dakota rejected a controversial law banning most abortions passed by the state legislature [JURIST report] earlier this year, while voters in California and Oregon turned back legislation that required guardian or parental notification before minors could undergo an abortion procedure. Last week, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a preliminary injunction [JURIST report] preventing South Dakota from enforcing a 2005 abortion law that requires doctors who perform abortions to tell women that abortion ends the lives of "human beings." AP has more.

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