In a US Supreme Court term loaded with potential blockbuster
cases, today the court takes up one of the most contentious debates
in America: abortion.
It is the one issue in this presidential-election year that has
sparked the most concern about future appointments of Supreme Court
justices. And the issue is one that clearly separates the two major
candidates for president, with Al Gore supporting a woman's right to
choose abortion and George W. Bush opposed to legalized abortion
except in certain rare cases.
For a court that has shied away from any sweeping new decisions
on abortion, the case is a test of whether the justices are willing
to grant states broader authority over abortion.
At issue before the court is a case that will decide whether
states may outlaw a controversial medical procedure that opponents
call partial-birth abortion.
Specifically, the court is examining a Nebraska law that
bars physicians in the state from performing a rare, late-term
procedure that involves extracting most of the fetus into the birth
canal before killing it. Abortion opponents, who favor the law, say
such abortions are gruesome, unnecessary, and that they are
"disturbingly close to infanticide."
Supporters of abortion rights say attempts to outlaw the
procedure are part of a coordinated national crusade by abortion
opponents. These opponents want to bypass Supreme Court precedents,
they say, and sharply restrict the constitutional right of women to
choose the safest abortion method.
"The [Nebraska] act is a deceptive maneuver in the campaign to
erode women's right to choose abortion," says Simon Heller in a
brief filed by the Center for Reproductive Law and Policy in support
of a Nebraska abortion doctor, LeRoy Carhart, who's challenging the
Nebraska attorney general Don Stenberg counters that Nebraska's
law and similar laws passed by 29 other states and Congress
represent a broad-based response to a procedure "widely viewed as
outside acceptable medical practice."
Some friend-of-the-court briefs ask the justices to overturn the
1973 Roe v. Wade precedent, which recognized a constitutional right
to abortion. But analysts say the case will likely be decided on
Nonetheless, abortion-rights proponents say if the court upholds
the Nebraska law it could trigger a nationwide push for similar laws
and subject other late-term abortion procedures to legal challenge. …