Supreme Court to Hear Late-Term Abortion Case

WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court said Tuesday that it will consider the legality of a type of late-term abortion, following the appointment of two new Justices within the past several months.

The case involves the 2003 Partial Birth Abortion Act, which was signed into law but never went into effect after lawsuits took the issue to the courts.

Federal Appeals Courts in California, Nebraska, and New York have ruled that the ban on the second or third term procedure is unconstitutional. "Partial-birth" abortion takes place when the physician partially removes the fetus from the womb and punctures or crushes the skull to terminate the pregnancy.

In 2000, the Court was split 5-4 in a case that struck down a Nebraska law because it lacked an exception to protect the health of the mother. Following the recent additions of Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justice Samuel Alito to the nation’s highest court, it remains to be seen how the newly-constituted bench will rule.

Recently retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who made way for incoming Justice Alito, was considered a moderate conservative swing vote on the abortion issue.

Alito, considered a conservative, has voted to allow restrictions on abortion as an appeals court judge for the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia. Liberal senators had opposed Alito’s confirmation in part because he left the door open to overturning the Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion throughout the nation.

In the most recent abortion case taken up by the Court in November involving parental notification for teens seeking abortions, the justices voted 9 to 0 in favor of sending the case back to the lower court. In its ruling, the court affirmed the role of parents in taking part in the decision of whether or not to allow the procedure, while maintaining that the state law must have an exception to protect the mother's health.

The federal law doesn’t have an exception for the mother's health, with supporters stating that it's never necessary to protect the woman's health. However the law does include an option to go through with the abortion in cases where the mothers' life is at risk.