Wednesday, October 12, 2005

NARAL Pro-Choice America Network Files Legal Brief Opposing Unconstitutional Abortion Law; Ayotte Case Poses Significant Risks for Women's Health

WASHINGTON, Oct. 12 /U.S. Newswire/ -- NARAL Pro-Choice America and 25 of its state-based affiliates filed an amicus curiae, or "friend of the court" brief, in support of the women's health clinics involved in the upcoming U.S. Supreme Court case Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood of Northern New England.

NARAL Pro-Choice New Hampshire advised the legislature, in accordance with clear Supreme Court precedent, that no restriction on the right to choose may endanger a woman's health. Yet the legislature deliberately passed a law that could endanger women's health. In the brief, NARAL Pro-Choice America and its affiliates argue that the Court should follow its own precedents and declare the law unconstitutional. The Court is expected to hear the case November 30.

"The Supreme Court should declare this ill-constructed law unconstitutional based on clearly set legal precedent. If the Court upholds this law, it will endanger women's health in New Hampshire and across the country," said Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America. "With such a closely divided Supreme Court, the implications for a woman's right to choose are ominous. The health exception for women has been a cornerstone of reproductive law since the Court ruled on Roe v. Wade in 1973."

Keenan said two other federal courts have struck down the 2003 law because New Hampshire legislators failed to include a constitutionally required health exception.

"The New Hampshire Attorney General disregards the Constitution's longstanding requirement that women's health must always be protected when the state regulates abortion. She denies that a provision protecting minors' health in an emergency is required -- truly a remarkable assertion, when 36 states have correctly understood that common sense and the Supreme Court's many precedents require such an exception," Keenan said. "If the Court rules in favor of New Hampshire, then we could see an onslaught of anti-choice legislation flood our state houses. Pro- choice Americans are watching closely to see whether the Court continues its role as the guardian of women's health provisions."

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BACKGROUND:

AYOTTE V. PLANNED PARENTHOOD OF NORTHERN NEW ENGLAND

In 2003 and 2004, two lower courts declared New Hampshire's law requiring notice of a parent before providing an abortion for an unemancipated minor unconstitutional because it does not include an explicit exception when the woman's health is in danger.

This year, Attorney General Kelly Ayotte appealed those lower court decisions to the U.S. Supreme Court. Despite precedents set by Supreme Court decisions like Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which require that abortion regulations must provide protection for women's health, Ayotte will argue before the Supreme Court that explicitly protecting women's health is unnecessary in a parental involvement law with a judicial bypass.

She will also argue against the current standard by which abortion restrictions are reviewed, so that particular women must face specific harms from an abortion restriction before it can be challenged in court. Women's health advocates believe that abortion restrictions that pose serious health threats to women should continue to be invalidated before they go into effect and women are directly harmed.

Bill sponsors and supporters admitted the bill was intentionally written without an exception for the woman's health. Representative Fran Wendleboe told the Associated Press, "We didn't mistakenly forget to put in a health exception. We purposely crafted the bill without an exception."

The outcome of this case -- particularly if it is decided after Justice O'Connor has left the Court -- could affect virtually every abortion-related case and statute in the country. It is possible, perhaps likely, for the Court to issue a decision that would apply to more than just parental notification/consent laws.

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