Sunday, April 22, 2007 | 7:16 a.m.
The U.S. Supreme Court's recent decision to uphold a federal ban on so-called partial-birth abortions suggests that the Roe v. Wade decision that allows women to obtain abortions faces an uncertain, and perhaps even bleak, future.
The Supreme Court's decision last week means that doctors who perform partial-birth abortions could face prosecution, fines and even prison time. The 2003 law had been blocked from being enforced because of lower court rulings that the Supreme Court overturned in its 5-4 decision on Wednesday.
The banned procedure is used after the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, when the fetus has grown too large to be extracted using suction. Suction is used during the first 12 weeks, or first trimester, of pregnancy - which is when 90 percent of all abortions are performed. But even though this recent decision affects a very small percentage of abortions, it represents a major change in the Supreme Court majority's opinion on abortion overall.
The opinion, written by Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, noted abortion's "ethical and moral concerns" and turned the debate into one that considers the effects on the fetus more important than a woman's right to govern her own body. The law includes no provision for allowing the procedure to save a woman's life. Kennedy opined that there is "medical uncertainty" about such a need - despite assertions by obstetricians and gynecologists to the contrary - and said that pregnant women and their doctors could litigate for such a need.
Such assumptions are exactly the reason that Supreme Court justices have no business delving into decisions that should remain between doctors and their patients. But it is clear that the Supreme Court's majority is not in favor of a woman's right to choose and, if it can't overturn Roe v. Wade outright, it will seek to do so through piecemeal and illogical decisions. This decision shows why elections - and whom they place in the position of selecting Supreme Court justices - matter.