Today the Supreme Court upheld this nation’s first abortion procedure ban – a ban enacted by George W. Bush and conservatives in Congress. Five justices, including Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justice Samuel Alito – both installed by Bush and a Republican-majority Senate – ruled that the law does not violate a woman’s constitutional right to abortion.
Not since Bush v. Gore has the Supreme Court made such a political decision, or one that so completely distorts the law and disregards the U.S. Constitution.
The law is so vaguely written that it may ban the most common abortion procedure used after 12 weeks of pregnancy, and there is no exception to allow its use if the woman’s health is in serious danger. The joint ruling in Gonzales v. Carhart and Gonzales v. Planned Parenthood is a major step in the campaign to outlaw all abortions, first by chipping away at and then by fully overturning Roe v. Wade.
Bush used his allies’ control in Congress to push through anti-abortion legislation, and he used their power to confirm anti-abortion justices to the Supreme Court – justices who have now upheld that same legislation.
The National Organization for Women and other advocates predicted as much, and fought tooth and nail against the confirmation of Roberts, and even more passionately against Alito, who replaced Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. Now we see that apparently, everything Roberts and Alito said at their confirmation hearings about respecting precedent was a pack of lies.
When the time came for women’s rights supporters in the Senate to prevent confirmation of Sam Alito, the “fifth vote” against abortion rights, only 25 senators stood up for women. And indeed he was the fifth vote for the majority in today’s decision. The senators who voted to end the Democratic filibuster, thus allowing Alito to join the court, must be reminded that their failure led to this day. We must stop the stacking of the federal courts and work toward a congressional majority that supports women’s rights.
Tellingly, seven years ago in Stenberg v. Carhart, the Supreme Court ruled against an almost identical ban enacted in Nebraska. The clear precedent set by Stenberg in 2000 was the reason three U.S. Courts of Appeal declared the federal ban unconstitutional. But last year the Bush administration pressed on with appeals to the Supreme Court by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.
So why did Gonzales forge ahead when a clear precedent had been set only six years earlier? And why did the court uphold this ban, effectively undoing that precedent? In the dissenting opinion, Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg explains it quite clearly:
“Though today’s opinion does not go so far as to disregard Roe or Casey, the Court, differently composed that it was when we last considered a restrictive abortion regulation, is hardly faithful to our earlier invocations of the ‘rule of law’ and the ‘principles of stare decisis.'”
In other words: The Supreme Court changed, stupid!
This is a clarion call for feminists, progressives and everyone who cares about justice, equality and democracy. We must link arms and say “No more.”
We must elect a Congress that will repeal this ban and a president who will sign the repeal.
November 2008 can’t come soon enough.