ACLU of Illinois Hails Supreme Court Decision Protecting Women's Health

Affiliate: ACLU of Illinois
June 28, 2000 12:00 am

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CHICAGO — Calling it a “triumph for women’s health care over politics and ideology,” the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois today hailed a decision by the Supreme Court of the United States striking down a so-called “partial birth abortion” law from Nebraska.

The 5 to 4 decision, authored by Justice Stephen Breyer, in the case of Stenberg v. Carhart, was announced in Washington, DC this morning as the Court ended the 1999-2000 term. The Court ruled that the law was an undue burden on a woman’s right to abortion because it banned safe and commonly used methods of pre-viability abortion and because it contained no exception to the ban when the woman needed the abortion to protect her health.

Evidence presented in courts around the nation, including here in Illinois, demonstrates that the broad language of the Nebraska statute and similar laws would have imposed criminal penalties on physicians who provide these safe and common methods of first and second trimester abortions. The Supreme Court today expressed profound concern that such broad laws would endanger women’s health and lives.

“The Supreme Court, once again, has affirmed the fundamental right of women both to choose to have an abortion and to do so in a way that is most protective of their health,” said Colleen Connell, Director of the ACLU of Illinois Reproductive Rights Project. “Most important, the Justices saw through the rhetoric of those who oppose all access to abortion services. The broad language of these laws was intended not to outlaw a single procedure, but to limit the availability of all abortion services for women. This decision represents a triumph of health care over politics and ideology.”

Today’s ruling is important for women in Illinois, since similar legislation adopted in Illinois was challenged by the ACLU of Illinois in the case Hope Clinic v. Ryan. Last year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, in a closely divided decision, upheld that legislation. Today’s action by the Supreme Court effectively overturns that decision.

In a concurring opinion, Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and John Paul Stevens specifically criticized laws like Illinois, which the Justices noted were designed to “chip away at the private [abortion] choice shielded by” the Supreme Court’s 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade.

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