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Encyclopedia > Stenberg v. Carhart
Stenberg v. Carhart
Supreme Court of the United States
Argued April 25, 2000
Decided June 28, 2000
Full case name: Don Stenberg, Attorney General of Nebraska, et al. v. LeRoy Carhart
Citations: 530 U.S. 914; 120 S. Ct. 2597; 147 L. Ed. 2d 743; 2000 U.S. LEXIS 4484;68 U.S.L.W. 4702; 2000 Cal. Daily Op. Service 5252; 2000 Daily Journal DAR 6977; 2000 Colo. J. C.A.R. 3802; 13 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. S 496
Prior history: Judgment for plaintiff, 11 F. Supp. 2d 1099, Judgment affirmed, 192 F.3d 1142. On writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit
Holding
Laws banning partial-birth abortion are unconstitutional if they do not make an exception for the woman's health, or if they cannot be reasonably construed to apply only to the partial-birth abortion (intact D&X) procedure and not to other abortion methods.
Court membership
Chief Justice: William Rehnquist
Associate Justices: John Paul Stevens, Sandra Day O'Connor, Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, David Souter, Clarence Thomas, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer
Case opinions
Majority by: Breyer
Joined by: Stevens, O'Connor, Souter, Ginsburg
Concurrence by: Stevens
Joined by: Ginsburg
Concurrence by: O'Connor
Concurrence by: Ginsburg
Joined by: Stevens
Dissent by: Kennedy
Joined by: Rehnquist
Dissent by: Scalia
Dissent by: Thomas
Joined by: Rehnquist, Scalia
Laws applied
U.S. Const. amend. XIV; Neb. Rev. Stat. Ann. ยง28โ€”328

Stenberg, Attorney General of Nebraska, et al. v. Carhart, 530 U.S. 914 (2000), is a case heard by the Supreme Court of the United States dealing with a Nebraska law which made performing "partial-birth abortion" illegal, without providing exceptions to preserve a mother's health. Nebraska physicians who performed the procedure contrary to the law were subject to having their medical licenses revoked. Nebraska, like many states, banned the procedure on the basis of public morality. The Court struck down the law, finding the Nebraska statute criminalizing "partial birth abortion[s]" violated the Due Process Clause of the United States Constitution, as interpreted in Planned Parenthood v. Casey and Roe v. Wade. This case dealt with previability second trimester abortions, whereas most abortions occur during the first trimester. Image File history File links Seal_of_the_United_States_Supreme_Court. ... Federal courts Supreme Court Chief Justice Associate Justices Elections Presidential elections Midterm elections Political Parties Democratic Republican Third parties State & Local government Governors Legislatures (List) State Courts Counties, Cities, and Towns Other countries Politics Portal      The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) is the highest judicial body in the... William Hubbs Rehnquist (October 1, 1924 – September 3, 2005) was an American lawyer, jurist, and a political figure, who served as an Associate Justice on the Supreme Court of the United States and later as the Chief Justice of the United States. ... John Paul Stevens (born April 20, 1920) is an American jurist, and the senior Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. ... Sandra Day OConnor (born March 26, 1930) is an American justice who served as the first female Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States from 1981 to 2006. ... Antonin Gregory Scalia (born March 11, 1936) is an American jurist and the second most senior Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. ... This page is about the Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. ... David Hackett Souter (born September 17, 1939) has been an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States since 1990. ... Clarence Thomas (born June 23, 1948) is an American jurist and has been an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States since 1991. ... Ruth Joan Bader Ginsburg (born March 15, 1933, Brooklyn, New York) is an Associate Justice on the U.S. Supreme Court. ... Stephen Gerald Breyer (born August 15, 1938) is an American attorney, political figure, and jurist. ... Amendment XIV in the National Archives The Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution (Amendment XIV) is one of the post-Civil War amendments, intended to secure rights for former slaves. ... // The United States Reports, the official reporter of the Supreme Court of the United States Case citation is the system used in common law countries such as the United States, England and Wales, Ireland, Canada, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Australia and India to uniquely identify the location of past court... 2000 (MM) was a leap year starting on Saturday of the Gregorian calendar. ... Federal courts Supreme Court Chief Justice Associate Justices Elections Presidential elections Midterm elections Political Parties Democratic Republican Third parties State & Local government Governors Legislatures (List) State Courts Counties, Cities, and Towns Other countries Politics Portal      The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) is the highest judicial body in the... Official language(s) English Capital Lincoln Largest city Omaha Largest metro area Omaha Area  Ranked 16th  - Total 77,421 sq mi (200,520 km²)  - Width 210 miles (340 km)  - Length 430 miles (690 km)  - % water 0. ... Partial-birth abortion (PBA) is a non-medical term used to refer to some late-term abortion procedures. ... The Doctor by Samuel Luke Fildes This article is about the term physician, one type of doctor; for other uses of the word doctor see Doctor. ... Due process of law is a legal concept that ensures the government will respect all of a persons legal rights instead of just some or most of those legal rights, when the government deprives a person of life, liberty, or property. ... Wikisource has original text related to this article: Constitution of the United States of America Page one of the original copy of the Constitution. ... Holding A Pennsylvania law that required spousal notification prior to obtaining an abortion was invalid under the Fourteenth Amendment because it created an undue burden on married women seeking an abortion. ... Holding Texas law making it a crime to assist a woman to get an abortion violated her due process rights. ... Abortion in the United States is a highly-charged issue with significant political and ethical debate. ...

Contents

History

LeRoy Carhart, a Nebraska physician who specialized in late-term reproductive health, brought suit against Don Stenberg, the Attorney General of Nebraska, seeking declaratory judgment that a state law banning certain forms of abortion was unconstitutional, based on the undue burden test mentioned by a dissenting opinion in Akron v. Akron Center for Reproductive Health[1] and by the Court in Planned Parenthood v. Casey. Both a federal district court and the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Carhart before the case was appealed to the Supreme Court. Leroy Carhart, a doctor from Nebraska, became well-known for his participation in the Supreme Court case Stenberg v. ... Don Stenberg is a Nebraska attorney and politician. ... In most common law jurisdictions, the Attorney General is the main legal adviser to the government, and in some jurisdictions may in addition have executive responsibility for law enforcement or responsibility for public prosecutions. ... A declaratory judgment is a judgment of a court which declares what rights each party in a dispute should have, but does not order any action or result in any legal damages. ... Holding A Pennsylvania law that required spousal notification prior to obtaining an abortion was invalid under the Fourteenth Amendment because it created an undue burden on married women seeking an abortion. ... Map of the boundaries of the United States Courts of Appeals and United States District Courts The United States district courts are the general trial courts of the United States federal court system. ... The United States courts of appeals (or circuit courts) are the mid-level appellate courts of the United States federal court system. ...


The Nebraska law prohibited any form of abortion that "partially evacuates fetal material through the cervix into the birth canal before curettage" a procedure known by opponents as partial birth abortion. The most common type of abortion performed is suction-aspiration abortion which consists of a vacuum tube inserted into the uterus; others consist of what is known as "D&E" (dilation and evacuation), which is usually used during the second trimester because of the increased amount of fetal material. The procedure dilates the cervix and removes some fetal material with non-vacuum instruments, and, in some cases, uses curettage inside the uterus so that fetal material can be evacuated. Dr. Carhart wanted to use a modified version of this called "D&X" (Dilation and Extraction), which, rather than commencing curettage inside the uterus, extracts part of the fetus first and then begins the process of dismemberment. Carhart stated that he wanted to perform this procedure because he believed it would be safer and would involve fewer risks for the women; it lowered the risk of leaving potentially harmful fetal tissue in the uterus, and it minimized the number of instruments physicians needed to use. Human fetus at eight weeks. ... In surgery, the use of a curette to remove tissue by scraping or scooping. ... The phrase partial-birth abortion is a controversial one used primarily by abortion opponents in the United States. ... Suction-aspiration abortion is a form of abortion using aspiration. ... The uterus or womb is the major female reproductive organ of most mammals, including humans. ... Dilation and evacuation is a form of abortion using dilation and evacuation. ... The human gestation period of approximately 40 weeks between the time of the last menstrual cycle and delivery is traditionally divided into three periods of three months, or trimesters. ... Schematic frontal view of female anatomy The cervix (from Latin neck) is the lower, narrow portion of the uterus where it joins with the top end of the vagina. ... Intact dilation and extraction (IDX or Intact D&X), is a surgical abortion wherein an intact fetus is removed from the womb via the cervix. ...


Experts in fetal development provide markedly different assessments of the kind and degree of pain (if any) experienced by the fetus (see Fetal pain). Although in the second and third trimesters the nervous system is largely in place, the level of consciousness or awareness of the fetus is a matter of conjecture. Experiments aimed at measuring fetal pain have yielded results that are somewhat open to interpretation, given that measurable reactions of the fetus to stimuli may not correspond directly to an adult experience of pain. Many medical authorities affirm that at the stage of pregnancy when this procedure is performed, the fetus has not reached what the medical community has defined as viability, the stage at which a developing fetus can be expected to live if removed from the uterus (usually at five months gestation, with medical assistance, although the viability threshold is retreating with medical advances). The issue of when a fetus can feel pain is a highly divisive and keenly debated one when considering the experience of a fetus during abortion. ... The Human Nervous System The nervous system of an animal coordinates the activity of the muscles, monitors the organs, constructs and also stops input from the senses, and initiates actions. ... Viability can mean: In an environmental conservation context, viability indicates the ability of a conservation target to persist for many generations or over long time periods. ...


The medical and scientific questions surrounding partial-birth abortion are impacted in the public arena by political and special interest considerations, resulting in a certain degree of media "hype" surrounding this case. Proponents of abortion rights on the one hand and the right-to-life on the other both decry what they describe as "myths" regarding this procedure that have passed into mainstream American debate on the issue.


The U.S. Supreme Court Ruling

The case was argued in 2000, and several issues were brought up during the oral arguments. The first was the lack of an exception for the woman's health. The state of Nebraska took the position that D&X abortions were never medically necessary, meaning that an exception was not needed. Secondly, it was inquired on whether or not the law could be construed to apply to other forms of abortion, in which case it would violate the "right to privacy" interpreted from the Constitution, as described in the Roe and Casey decisions. The law had never been certified to the Supreme Court of Nebraska, as it had been challenged two days after the law was passed.


Opinion of the court and concurring opinions

Justice Stephen Breyer, in writing the opinion of the Court, cited Planned Parenthood v. Casey and said that any abortion law that imposed an undue burden on a woman's "right to choose" (abortion) was unconstitutional. He said that causing those who procure abortions to "fear prosecution, conviction, and imprisonment" was an undue burden, and therefore declared the law to be against the Constitution. Justices John Paul Stevens, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, David Souter, and Sandra Day O'Connor all agreed that the law was unconstitutional, but Ginsburg wrote a separate opinion, as did O'Connor. Ginsburg stated plainly that a state could not force physicians to use procedures other than what they felt in their own judgment to be the safest, that this was part of the "life and liberty" protected under the Constitution. O'Connor agreed, saying that any such procedural law would have to be applied only to prevent unnecessary partial-birth abortions, and would have to include an exception for the health of the mother (as this law did not). Justices Ginsburg and Stevens also filed separate opinions, Stevens noting that the government, in his view, had no right to force doctors to perform any procedure other than what they felt would be the safest. Stephen Gerald Breyer (born August 15, 1938) is an American attorney, political figure, and jurist. ... Holding A Pennsylvania law that required spousal notification prior to obtaining an abortion was invalid under the Fourteenth Amendment because it created an undue burden on married women seeking an abortion. ... John Paul Stevens (born April 20, 1920) is an American jurist, and the senior Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. ... Ruth Joan Bader Ginsburg (born March 15, 1933, Brooklyn, New York) is an Associate Justice on the U.S. Supreme Court. ... David Hackett Souter (born September 17, 1939) has been an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States since 1990. ... Sandra Day OConnor (born March 26, 1930) is an American justice who served as the first female Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States from 1981 to 2006. ...


Dissents

Justice Anthony Kennedy dissented. Kennedy claimed this type of law was allowed by their ruling in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which allowed laws to preserve prenatal life to a certain extent. He called Sandra Day O'Connor's behavior a "repudiation" of the understandings and assurances given in Casey. Justice Kennedy also detailed what he deemed a constitutionally protected alternative to partial-birth abortion, as follows: This page is about the Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. ... Holding A Pennsylvania law that required spousal notification prior to obtaining an abortion was invalid under the Fourteenth Amendment because it created an undue burden on married women seeking an abortion. ... Sandra Day OConnor (born March 26, 1930) is an American justice who served as the first female Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States from 1981 to 2006. ...

โ€œ The fetus, in many cases, dies just as a human adult or child would: It bleeds to death as it is torn from limb from limb. The fetus can be alive at the beginning of the dismemberment process and can survive for a time while its limbs are being torn off. โ€

This was a far cry from Justice Clarence Thomas' dissent, which stated that abortion was not a right contained in the Constitution, and sharply criticized the majority and concurring opinions. Chief Justice William Rehnquist, along with Antonin Scalia, and Thomas have consistently said that they do not believe abortion is a protected right, and have pointed out that "privacy" is not explicitly mentioned in the Constitution. Thomas also pointed out in his dissenting opinion that even if abortion was a woman's right, the law in question was not designed to strike at the right itself. He reminded the others that many groups, including even the American Medical Association, had concluded that partial-birth abortion was very different from other forms of abortion, and was often considered infanticide. Thomas further noted that the gruesome nature of some partial-birth abortions has caused personal trauma in the doctors performing them. In a short separate opinion, Chief Justice Rehnquist stated that he did not join Casey but felt that Justice Kennedy had applied its precedent correctly, and thus joined his opinion. Clarence Thomas (born June 23, 1948) is an American jurist and has been an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States since 1991. ... William Hubbs Rehnquist (October 1, 1924 – September 3, 2005) was an American lawyer, jurist, and a political figure, who served as an Associate Justice on the Supreme Court of the United States and later as the Chief Justice of the United States. ... Antonin Gregory Scalia (born March 11, 1936) is an American jurist and the second most senior Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. ... The American Medical Association (AMA) is the largest association of medical doctors in the United States. ... In sociology and biology, infanticide is the practice of intentionally causing the death of an infant of a given species, by members of the same species - often by the mother. ...


In his dissent, Justice Scalia recalled his prior dissent in Casey in which he had criticized the undue burden standard as "doubtful in application as it is unprincipled in origin." What constitutes an undue burden is a value judgment, argued Scalia; it should therefore be no surprise that the Court split on whether the Nebraska statute constitutes an undue burden. Scalia moreover chastised Kennedy for feeling betrayed by the majority. Scalia declared that the Stenberg decision was not "a regrettable misapplication of Casey,"--as Kennedy claimed--but "Casey's logical and entirely predictable consequence." Denouncing the undue burden standard of Casey as illegitimate, Scalia called for Casey to be overruled.


Effects of the Decision

By a 5-4 majority, the Nebraska law was struck down, as were all other state laws banning partial-birth abortion. In 2003, however, the federal government enacted a Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act. This law did not include an exception for the health of the mother, as Justice O'Connor said it must. Congress inserted "findings" into the law saying that the procedure is never needed to protect maternal health. Although several federal judges struck down this federal law, citing the precedent of Stenberg v. Carhart, it was eventually upheld by the Supreme Court in Gonzales v. Carhart. It has been suggested that Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 1995 be merged into this article or section. ... The majority of information on this page is speculative. ...


The Supreme Court case of Gonzales v. Carhart concerns similar questions as those in Stenberg, but this time in the context of a federal statute. Since Stenberg, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito have been confirmed. The decision in Gonzales v. Carhart has greatly narrowed the holding in this case. The majority of information on this page is speculative. ... John Glover Roberts Jr. ... Samuel Anthony Alito, Jr. ...


Footnotes

  1. ^ Akron v. Akron Center for Reproductive Health, 462 U.S. 416 (1983).

External links

  • Opinion of the Court from FindLaw.com
  • Stenberg v. Carhart, 530 U.S. 914 (2000) (full text with links to cited material)
Abortion law (Part of the abortion series)
History & overview: Case law, History of abortion law, Laws by country
Types of regulation: Buffer zones, Conscience clauses, Informed consent, Fetal protection, Parental involvement, Spousal consent

 
 

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