Back to News & Commentary

The 4th Circuit Upholds the Law: Carhart is Not Carte Blanche

Talcott Camp,
ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project
Share This Page
May 28, 2008

Last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond, Va., struck down a law — the “Partial Birth Infanticide Act” — that would have made it virtually impossible for doctors to perform second-trimester abortions in the state regardless of whether a woman’s health was threatened.

If the law sounds familiar, it should. It is yet another iteration of the federal “Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act” that the U.S. Supreme Court misguidedly upheld last year in Gonzales v. Carhart. Like the federal law, Virginia’s fails to include any exceptions to protect women’s health. But as last week’s court held, the Virginia law goes even further than the federal ban, which proved to be its fatal constitutional flaw.

While the Supreme Court’s decision in Carhart dealt a devastating blow to women’s health, reproductive rights, and equality, last week’s decision (PDF) shows that there are still limits to how far politicians can go in passing new and far-reaching abortion restrictions. Notably, this was the second federal appeals court to find a state ban too extreme in light of Carhart. In June of last year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit struck down Michigan’s third attempt at an abortion methods ban, the Legal Birth Definition Act. That law would have banned the most commonly used abortion methods in the first and second trimesters. In its ruling, the court held that the Michigan language “pushed almost every boundary that the Supreme Court has imposed for these types of laws.”

We are gratified to see that even in the post-Carhart world, there are limits to how far legislatures can go in disregarding women’s health and reproductive freedom. The Fourth and Sixth Circuits understand that last year’s Carhart decision — as devastating as it was — does not give states carte blanche to eliminate nearly all second-trimester abortion care. It is our hope that legislators in Virginia, Michigan, and all across the country will take note of these important rulings and put an end to their on-going attempts to interfere in a woman’s most personal and private medical decisions.

Learn More About the Issues on This Page