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Massachusetts Medical Society




Aortion has long been, and remains, the most politicized medical procedure in the United States. It has been the subject of more state and federal legislation than all other medical procedures combined. The U.S. Supreme Court, which almost never hears cases about medical procedures, has regularly heard cases over the past 25 years concerning the constitutionality of various state laws designed to limit abortion. Thus, it was only a matter of time before the Court would hear a case on the constitutionality of laws restricting so-called partial-birth abortion. When the Court heard a challenge to Nebraska's law, statutes relating to partial-birth abortion had been enacted in 30 states, and two bills banning such abortions had been passed by Congress. All the appeals courts except one, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, had found these laws unconstitutional, and the opinion of that court rested on an extremely narrow interpretation of the law.

The controversies surrounding partial-birth abortion are over how to describe the procedure and whether physicians ever need to use it to protect the health of a pregnant woman. The Supreme Court confronted these issues in the case of Stenberg v. Carhart last summer.


From The New England Journal of Medicine, George J. Annas, “Partial-Birth Abortion” and the Supreme Court, Volume 344, Page 152 Copyright ©(2001) Massachusetts Medical Society. Reprinted with permission.

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