Gonzales v. Carhart.

Author:Bostrom, Barry A.
Position:Woman's right to abortion

HELD: The federal Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act is not void for vagueness and does not impose an undue burden on a woman's right to abortion based on overbreadth or lack of health exception. The State has the power to restrict abortions after viability and has legitimate interests from the pregnancy's outset in protecting the health of the woman and the life of the fetus.


These cases required the Court to consider the validity of the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003 (Act), 18 U.S.C. [section] 1531 (2000 ed., Supp. IV), a federal statute regulating abortion procedures. In No. 05-380 (Carhart) respondents were LeRoy Carhart, William G. Fitzhugh, William H. Knorr, and Jill L. Vibhakar, doctors who perform second-trimester abortions. These doctors filed their complaint against the Attorney General of the United States in the United States District Court for the District of Nebraska. They challenged the constitutionality of the Act and sought a permanent injunction against its enforcement. Carhart v. Ashcroft, 331 F. Supp. 2d 805 (2004). In 2004, after a two week trial, the District Court granted a permanent injunction that prohibited the Attorney General from enforcing the Act in all cases but those in which there was no dispute that the fetus was viable. Id. at 1048. The Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed. 413 F. 3d 791 (2005).

In No. 05-1382 (Planned Parenthood) respondents were Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Inc., Planned Parenthood Golden Gate, and the City and County of San Francisco. The Planned Parenthood entities sought to enjoin enforcement of the Act in a suit filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California. Planned Parenthood Federation of Am. v. Ashcroft, 320 F. Supp. 2d 957 (2004). The City and County of San Francisco intervened as plaintiff. In 2004, the District Court held a trial and it, too, enjoined the Attorney General from enforcing the Act. Id. at 1035. The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed. 435 F. 3d 1163 (2006).

The Act proscribes a particular manner of ending fetal life. Abortion methods vary depending to some extent on the preferences of the physician, the term of the pregnancy, and the resulting stage of the unborn child's development. Between 85 and 90 percent of the approximately 1.3 million abortions performed each year in the United States take place in the first trimester. The most common first-trimester abortion methods are vacuum aspiration and mifepristone (RU-486). The Act does not regulate these procedures.

Of the remaining abortions that take place each year, most occur in the second trimester. The usual abortion method in the second and third trimesters is the dilation and evacuation or D&E method. The abortion method subject to the Act is a variation of the standard D&E method, sometimes called "intact D&E," "dilation and extraction" ("D&X"), and "intact D&X." In the standard DUE, the fetus is pulled apart and removed piece by piece. In the intact DUE, the fetus is not pulled apart. Instead, the living fetus is delivered feet first...

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