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US Supreme Court gives back power to the people

The facts

In March 2018, the state of Mississippi passed the Gestational Age Act, which banned any abortion operation after the first 15 weeks of pregnancy, with exceptions for a medical emergency or severe fetal abnormality but none for cases of rape or incest.

Republican Governor Phil Bryant said that he was:

committed to making Mississippi the safest place in America for an unborn child, and this bill will help us achieve that goal“.

He added:

“We’ll probably be sued here in about a half hour, and that’ll be fine with me. It is worth fighting over.”

An abortion clinic named the Jackson Women’s Health Organization and one of its doctors filed a suit in Federal District Court the day the Gestational Age Act was enacted against various Mississippi officials, alleging that the Act violated Supreme Court precedents establishing a constitutional right to abortion. The District Court granted summary judgment in their favour and permanently enjoined enforcement of the Act, reasoning that “viability marks the earliest point at which the State’s interest in fetal life is constitutionally adequate to justify a legislative ban on nontherapeutic abortions” and that 15 weeks’ gestational age is “prior to viability.”

Mississippi appealed against the Fifth Circuit to the Supreme Court in June 2020, challenging the viability standard set by previous Supreme Court decisions and asking the Court to allow the prohibition of “inhumane procedures”.

Relevant law

The Ninth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides that:

“The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.”

Section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides that:

“All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

Roe v. Wade (1973)

In Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973), the US Supreme Court majority opinion in striking down Texas’s abortion ban as unconstitutional held that women in the United States had a fundamental right to choose whether to have abortions without excessive government restriction:

“This right of privacy, whether it be founded in the Fourteenth Amendment’s concept of personal liberty and restrictions upon state action, as we feel it is, or … in the Ninth Amendment’s reservation of rights to the people, is broad enough to encompass a woman’s decision whether to terminate her pregnancy.”

“A state criminal abortion statute of the current Texas type, that excepts from criminality only a life-saving procedure on behalf of the mother, without regard to pregnancy stage and without recognition of the other interests involved, is violative of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.”

Roe v. Wade decided that a state’s right to regulate abortion was limited according to which trimester of pregnancy:

“With respect to the State’s important and legitimate interest in the health of the mother, the ‘compelling’ point, in the light of present medical knowledge, is at approximately the end of the first trimester. This is so because of the now-established medical fact, referred to above at 149, that until the end of the first trimester mortality in abortion may be less than mortality in normal childbirth. It follows that, from and after this point, a State may regulate the abortion procedure to the extent that the regulation reasonably relates to the preservation and protection of maternal health.”

“To summarize and to repeat:
100
1. A state criminal abortion statute of the current Texas type, that excepts from criminality only a life-saving procedure on behalf of the mother, without regard to pregnancy stage and without recognition of the other interests involved, is violative of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

101
(a) For the stage prior to approximately the end of the first trimester, the abortion decision and its effectuation must be left to the medical judgment of the pregnant woman’s attending physician.

102
(b) For the stage subsequent to approximately the end of the first trimester, the State, in promoting its interest in the health of the mother, may, if it chooses, regulate the abortion procedure in ways that are reasonably related to maternal health.

103
(c) For the stage subsequent to viability, the State in promoting its interest in the potentiality of human life may, if it chooses, regulate, and even proscribe, abortion except where it is necessary, in appropriate medical judgment, for the preservation of the life or health of the mother.”

Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992)

The subsequent case of Planned Parenthood v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833 (1992) resulted in a particularly divided Court.

The plurality’s opinion overturned the Roe trimester framework in favor of a viability analysis allowing states to implement abortion restrictions that apply during the first trimester of pregnancy, and the Court also replaced the strict scrutiny standard of review required by Roe with the undue burden standard.

However, the plurality emphasised that stare decisis had to apply because the Roe rule had not been proven intolerable:

“The sum of the precedential enquiry to this point shows Roe’s underpinnings unweakened in any way affecting its central holding. While it has engendered disapproval, it has not been unworkable. An entire generation has come of age free to assume Roe’s concept of liberty in defining the capacity of women to act in society, and to make reproductive decisions; no erosion of principle going to liberty or personal autonomy has left Roe’s central holding a doctrinal remnant.”

“Where, in the performance of its judicial duties, the Court decides a case in such a way as to resolve the sort of intensely divisive controversy reflected in Roe and those rare, comparable cases, its decision has a dimension that the resolution of the normal case does not carry. It is the dimension present whenever the Court’s interpretation of the Constitution calls the contending sides of a national controversy to end their national division by accepting a common mandate rooted in the Constitution.”

Justices Blackmun and Stevens approved of the plurality’s preservation of Roe. Justice Blackmun, the author of Roe, argued for a woman’s right to privacy and again insisted that all non-de-minimis abortion regulations were subject to strict scrutiny.

Justices Rehnquist and Scalia dissented from the plurality’s decision to uphold Roe v. Wade and strike down the spousal notification law, contending that Roe was incorrectly decided.

The Gestational Age Act

Mississippi’s Gestational Age Act, see Miss. Code Ann. §41–41–191 (2018) provides that:

“Except in a medical emergency or in the case of a severe fetal abnormality, a person shall not intentionally or knowingly perform . . . or induce an abortion of an unborn human being if the probable gestational age of the unborn human being has been determined to be greater than fifteen (15) weeks.” §4(b).

US Supreme Court decision

Justice Alito held that the divisive issue of abortion properly belongs and should be given back to the people:

“We hold that Roe and Casey must be overruled. The Constitution makes no reference to abortion, and no such right is implicitly protected by any constitutional provision, including the one on which the defenders of Roe and Casey now chiefly rely—the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. That provision has been held to guarantee some rights that are not mentioned in the Constitution, but any such right must be “deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition” and “implicit in the concept of ordered liberty.” Washington v. Glucksberg, 521 U.S. 702, 721 (1997)”

“The right to abortion does not fall within this category. Until the latter part of the 20th century, such a right was entirely unknown in American law. Indeed, when the Fourteenth Amendment was adopted, three quarters of the States made abortion a crime at all stages of pregnancy. The abortion right is also critically different from any other right that this Court has held to fall within the Fourteenth Amendment’s protection of “liberty.””

“Stare decisis, the doctrine on which Casey’s controlling opinion was based, does not compel unending adherence to Roe’s abuse of judicial authority. Roe was egregiously wrong from the start. Its reasoning was exceptionally weak, and the decision has had damaging consequences. And far from bringing about a national settlement of the abortion issue, Roe and Casey have enflamed debate and deepened division.

“It is time to heed the Constitution and return the issue of abortion to the people’s elected representatives. “The permissibility of abortion, and the limitations, upon it, are to be resolved like most important questions in our democracy: by citizens trying to persuade one another and then voting.” Casey, 505 U. S., at 979 (Scalia, J., concurring in judgment in part and dissenting in part). That is what the Constitution and the rule of law demand.”


Full story: https://sterlinglawqld.com/us-supreme-court-gives-back-power-to-the-people/

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