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A Decision That Will Spark Activism

Louise Melling,
Deputy Legal Director and Director of Ruth Bader Ginsburg Center for Liberty,
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April 27, 2007

“[T]he Court deprives women of the right to make an autonomous choice, even at the expense of their safety.”

, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in her dissent to Gonzales v. Carhart.

“I’m ecstatic. It’s like someone gave me $1 million and told me, Leslee, go shopping. We’re brainstorming, and we’re having fun.”

, Leslee Unruh, one of the architects of last year’s failed attempt to ban nearly all abortions in South Dakota, explaining her reaction to the Supreme Court decision in Gonzales v. Carhart.

Last Wednesday, the United States Supreme Court upheld the first ever federal law banning certain abortion methods. The Court’s decision is a devastating blow to women’s health, reproductive rights, and the ability of all Americans to make private medical decisions.

The decision is the first ever in which the Court has upheld an abortion restriction that lacks protection for women’s health. The decision is thus unprecedented and dangerous. It undermines a core principle of Roe v. Wade that women’s health must remain paramount. It signals the Court’s willingness to defer to politicians, not doctors, when it comes to matters of our health. And it invites states to pass still more restrictions, to further limit our access to abortion and with it our autonomy.

And, strikingly, it is the first decision of the Court since Justice O’Connor resigned. There’s no getting around one core fact: Last week’s decision was a reversal of a 2000 decision , in which the Court struck a similar state ban in part because it lacked a health exception , and the change in result reflects the change in the Court.

The decision has sparked anger and ire , all warranted. A doctor in California writes a satirical letter-to-the editor (see last) referring his case of lupus nephritis to the Court; Ellen Goodman connects politicians’ eagerness to interfere in private medical decisions with Terri Schiavo; and an editorial The New York Times points out the Court’s patronizing tone towards women.

Now it’s time for the decision to spark activism , by those of us who care about our right to decide whether and when to have a child; who want doctors, not politicians, to make medical decisions; and who care about women’s lives and equality. The ACLU stands ready and in firm defense of our rights.