Women's Rights Up for Grabs in the Supreme Court

By Martin, Sarah | National NOW Times, Spring 2000 | Go to article overview

Women's Rights Up for Grabs in the Supreme Court


Martin, Sarah, National NOW Times


The U.S. Supreme Court will render decisions in three important challenges to women's rights this term. Two of the cases address challenges to women's access to abortion, determining the constitutionality of abortion procedures bans and bubble zone protection at clinics. The third reviews women's ability to sue attackers in federal court under the civil rights remedy of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). The justices will announce their decisions before the Court adjourns for the year early this summer. NOW activists are already planning demonstrations in the event that any decision endangers women's rights.

Abortion Procedures Ban

A week before the 27th Roe v. Wade anniversary, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to review Nebraska's abortion procedures ban in Stenberg v. Carhart. The Court will determine the constitutionality ofthe so-called partial-birth abortion bans and further define the extent to which states may place restrictions on abortion. Last fall, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled unanimously that Nebraska's ban unduly burdened women seeking abortions because it prohibited some of today's safest and most common procedures. Less than a month later the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals upheld bans in Wisconsin and Illinois, creating a split among the circuits.

The outcome in the Supreme Court is uncertain as is the impact on women's access to safe abortion procedures. Standards created by Roe have been weakened over the years by Supreme Court decisions on state and federal legislation. This case challenges the remaining distinctions between pre- and post-viability standards and the requirement of an exception in post-viability bans to preserve the woman's health. If the viability standard and the health exception are erased, a woman's well-being will become less important than that of the fetus. Safe abortion procedures will be eliminated, regardless of trimester or health risks to women. An anti-abortion Court decision could give fuel to the new face of anti-abortion legislation, like the "Unborn Victims of Violence Act" which would establish rights for a fetus separate from those of a pregnant woman. (See page 11 for more on this act).

Bubble Zones

at Risk of Bursting

On Jan. 19 the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Hill v. Colorado, concerning the constitutionality of a Colorado law which created a floating bubble zone. The statute protects women, doctors and staff from anti-abortion harassment within 100 feet of a clinic by requiring protesters to keep at least eight feet away from people while they enter and leave reproductive health facilities. …

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Women's Rights Up for Grabs in the Supreme Court
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