ACLU and Planned Parenthood File Brief in Supreme Court Challenging New Hampshire Abortion Restriction

October 12, 2005 12:00 am

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In Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood, Court Will Determine Value of Women’s Health and Safety

WASHINGTON – The American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) today are filing a brief for the plaintiffs in the U.S. Supreme Court challenging a New Hampshire abortion restriction that lacks an exception for medical emergencies when a woman’s health is at risk. Both groups warned that, depending on how the court rules, a decision in this case could unravel decades of legal protections for women’s health and safety.

“At Planned Parenthood, our top priority is our patients. We are challenging this law because it fails to protect their health and safety,” said Nancy Mosher, CEO of Planned Parenthood of Northern New England. “Doctors know best what their patients need in emergency situations. When a woman is facing a medical emergency, her doctor should be able to treat her immediately, without having to delay care until they find a judge who can give permission.

“The case involves a 2003 New Hampshire law that restricts young women’s access to abortion and fails to include a medical emergency exception for cases where a woman faces a serious health risk. Following three decades of Supreme Court precedent, two lower courts held the law unconstitutional because it lacked the required protections for women’s health.

“One of the main questions before the court is whether doctors can continue to challenge harmful abortion restrictions before they threaten their patients’ health,” said Jennifer Dalven, Deputy Director of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project. “In essence, the court will consider whether sick women need to go to courthouses or hospitals when they need emergency care.”

Despite acknowledging that delaying medically necessary abortions could have lifelong consequences, including infertility and liver or kidney dysfunction, the state argued in its briefs against the need for a medical emergency exception. It asked the Court instead to require women who are in the midst of medical emergencies that seriously endanger their health to go to court and ask a judge to allow them to have an emergency abortion, PPFA and the ACLU noted.

“For more than 30 years, the Supreme Court has consistently held that abortion restrictions must have exceptions to protect women who need emergency medical care,” said Dara Klassel, Director of Legal Affairs for PPFA. “We hope that the Supreme Court will continue to value women’s health.”

Groups and individuals filing friend-of-the-court briefs today in support of the plaintiffs include the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Medical Association, New Hampshire Governor John Lynch, the New Hampshire Medical Society, and more than 100 pro-choice New Hampshire legislators, in addition to the religious, reproductive rights, and women’s rights organizations.

Oral argument in the case is scheduled for Wednesday, November 30, 2005. The ACLU’s Jennifer Dalven will argue the case. The plaintiffs in the case are Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, the Concord Feminist Health Center, the Feminist Health Center of Portsmouth, and Wayne Goldner, M.D.

The case is Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, No. 04-1144. Lawyers on the case include Dalven, Steven R. Shapiro, Louise Melling, Talcott Camp, Corinne Schiff, Brigitte Amiri, and Diana Kasdan of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project; Klassel of PPFA; Martin P. Honigberg of Sulloway & Hollis, PLLC; and Lawrence Vogelman, of Nixon Raiche Manning Vogelman & Leach, PA and legal director of the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union. The plaintiffs’ brief will be available online on Thursday, October 13, 2005 at www.aclu.org/supremecourt and www.ayottevplannedparenthood.org.


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