The Supreme Court Without O'Connor
WASHINGTON, DC — Many news reports about the recent resignation of Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor have erroneously stated that a majority of the remaining eight justices are committed to upholding Roe v. Wade. In fact, with Justice O'Connor's resignation, there remain only four justices on the court who have voted to protect women's health and safety in the court's most recent rulings on abortion.
"We are at a critical juncture. It is vital that the public understand the gravity of this situation and the long-term and very serious threat it poses to women's health and safety," Karen Pearl, interim president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. "With Justice O'Connor's resignation, the court could easily tip to dismantling the protections afforded by Roe, and women would pay the price for generations to come."
Thirty-three years ago, a clear majority — 7-2 — voted in favor of Roe v. Wade, the landmark case that guaranteed legal access to abortion for women nationwide. Since then, the makeup of the court has changed dramatically.
When Planned Parenthood v. Casey reached the Court in 1992, only two remaining justices supported Roe in its entirety. In that case, the "essential holding" of Roe, that the Constitution prohibits an outright ban on abortion, survived by a vote of just 5-4.
In 2000, when the Supreme Court reviewed Stenberg v. Carhart, four of the nine justices made it clear that they support either overturning Roe v. Wade or eliminating the protections that would guarantee that women's health and lives are paramount. Among those justices on the bench today, only Justice Kennedy is considered a potential swing vote on abortion; however, he sided against the constitutional protection for women's health in Stenberg v. Carhart.
This fall, the Supreme Court will hear another case challenging the constitutional protection for women's health, Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood. The O'Connor resignation raises the stakes in this case to a new level. The makeup of the court at that time could have a dramatic impact on the health and lives of women in this country.
"The court's decision in Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood will have a significant impact on the ability of women and their doctors to challenge any abortion restriction, including an abortion ban," Pearl said.
President Bush says his models for a Supreme Court nominee are Justices Scalia and Thomas — both of whom are on record saying Roe v. Wade was wrongly decided and should be overruled.