National NOW Foundation Times  >> Fall 2007 >> Supreme Court Challenges Roe v. Wade

Supreme Court Challenges Roe v. Wade, Freedom of Choice Act Would Restore Rights

By Holly A. Manning, Publications Coordinator
and Sarah Small, Publications Intern

Activists protest the Supreme Court's ruling weakening Roe v. Wade.
NOW staff photo by Holly Manning
Activists protest the Supreme Court's ruling weakening Roe v. Wade.

In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court upheld the nation's first abortion procedure ban and rejected the health exception that had been guaranteed by Roe v. Wade since 1973.

The five justices in the majority of the Gonzales v. Carhart ruling, including Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justice Samuel Alito--both installed by Bush and a Republican-majority Senate--ruled that the law, even without a health exception, does not violate a woman's constitutional right to abortion.

Because the new law is so vague, it essentially bans the most common abortion procedure after 12 weeks of pregnancy, even if there is a serious threat to the woman's health. Only seven years ago, the Supreme Court overturned an almost identical ban enacted in Nebraska for the very reason that there was no health exception.

That clear precedent set in 2000 was why three U.S. Courts of Appeal declared the federal ban unconstitutional. However, Bush-appointed Attorney General Alberto Gonzales pressed on with appeals to the Supreme Court, leading to the national ban.

"Right-wing radicals believe that by chipping away at Roe, they will eventually strip women of their right to abortion," said NOW Foundation President Kim Gandy. "We have other ideas."

So do some lawmakers who are dedicated to enacting legislation that will protect women's reproductive freedom. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) introduced S. 1173, The Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA) in April, which would override the Supreme Court's decision in Gonzales v. Carhart.

FOCA would fully restore all of the reproductive rights granted in Roe v. Wade, providing protection if the decision were to be overturned. Beyond that, FOCA would repeal any federal or state restrictions that currently impede women's reproductive freedom, nullifying measures that have prevented public funding of abortion care or counseling for those lacking financial means and eliminating mandatory delays and medically frivolous hurdles. Additionally, FOCA recognizes that historically young women have been included under Roe's protections and would prevent states from limiting their access to abortion services.

The Freedom of Choice Act does not have enough Senate co-sponsors to get it to the floor in the closely divided body. If more women vote in the 2008 elections, the women's movement will gain more allies, giving a better outlook for FOCA in the next Congress.