In Season 2, Episode 2 of Notorious, we discuss the case of Gonzales v. Carhart, which involved the Supreme Court’s consideration of the constitutionality of The Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003 (“the Act”). In 2003, Congress passed and President Bush signed the Act into law. Dr. LeRoy Carhart and other physicians, who performed late term abortions, sued to stop the Act from going into effect. A federal district court agreed and ruled the Act unconstitutional. The government appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, which upheld the lower court’s ruling.
The question ultimately presented to the Supreme Court was whether the Act was an unconstitutional violation of the personal liberty protected by the Fifth Amendment because the Act lacked an exception for partial birth abortion necessary to protect mothers. In a 5-4 ruling, the majority ruled that there was no undue burden because there are other types of abortions that one could get in their second trimester.
Justice Ginsburg wrote the dissent, joined by Justice Stevens, Justice Souter, and Justice Breyer. The dissent criticized the majority for failing to follow precedent in this case. Specifically, Justice Ginsburg noted “Retreating from prior rulings that abortion restrictions cannot be imposed absent an exception safeguarding a woman's health, the Court upholds an Act that surely would not survive under the close scrutiny that previously attended state decreed limitations on a woman's reproductive choices.”