Supreme Court: New Hampshire Teen Abortion Law Should Be Upheld

National   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jan 18, 2006   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Supreme Court: New Hampshire Teen Abortion Law Should Be Upheld

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by Steven Ertelt Editor
January 18, 2006

Washington, DC ( — In a surprising unanimous ruling, the Supreme Court ruled that a federal appeals court wrongly overturned a New Hampshire law that requires parental notification before a teen can have an abortion. Pro-abortion groups wanted the law to be struck down because it lacks a health exception.

Instead of issuing a major ruling in the case, the high court asked the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals to reconsider its decision overturning the law.

The Supreme Court determined the appeals court went too far in issuing a permanent injunction preventing the law from being enforced.

Pro-abortion Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote the opinion for the court.

"In the case that is before us … the lower courts need not have invalidated the law wholesale," O’Connor wrote.

"Only a few applications of New Hampshire’s parental notification statute would present a constitutional problem," she explained. "So long as they are faithful to legislative intent, then, in this case, the lower courts can issue a declaratory judgment and an injunction prohibiting the statute’s unconstitutional application."

Under that opinion, the appeals court will issue an opinion explaining under what circumstances the law cannot be used to require parental notification 48 hours before the teen’s abortion.

The judges did not deal directly with the question of whether the parental notification law should have had a health exception, as abortion advocates contend. Typically the judicial bypass provision of such laws, which have proven to reduce abortions, are sufficient to cover rare health emergencies.

"We do not revisit our abortion precedents today," O’Connor added.

The New Hampshire law is patterned after Minnesota’s parental involvement statute which has no health exception and was upheld as constitutional by the United States Supreme Court.

That law has been in effect for over 20 years with no reported health emergencies suffered by Minnesota teens.

Mary Balch, an attorney for National Right to Life who handles state legislation, says the claims by abortion advocates that a health exception is needed is a "red herring."

"When a minor daughter confronts a medical emergency, she needs her parents most," Balch explained. "As knowledgeable doctors have briefed the Supreme Court, an immediate abortion would not be appropriate treatment for any non-life threatening complication of pregnancy."

Balch said the New Hampshire law does not preclude a doctor from treating any medical emergencies and does contain an exception allowing immediate abortions for life threatening medical emergencies.

No other members of the high court issued opinions as all joined in O’Connor’s.

O’Connor is expected to be replaced soon by federal appeals court Judge Samuel Alito, who is a member of the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals. Pro-life groups hope he will be a more reliable vote on pro-life issues.

The case is Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood, 04-1144.