The US Supreme Court's ruling on Gonzales v. Carhart

In light of certain special interest groups who expect our current federal government to follow the lead of the Bush administration, an important point needs to be made widely known: the new abortion decision from the US Supreme Court will not save the life of a single foetus.

What it will mean is that women who have terminal late-term complications (for themselves or their foetus) in a wanted pregnancy will be prohibited from using a procedure – intact dilation and extraction (IDX) – that protects their future ability to bear children. [more on this at Bitch PhD]

Indeed, for their future health and safety many of these women will have to terminate any future pregnancies early, because they will be unable to safely carry a pregnancy to full-term. Follow the maths: there will in fact be more abortions as a result of this ruling, not fewer.

N.B. Graphic details of uterine surgery follow:

Because the only reason for terminating a pregnancy in the third trimester is serious medical complications, these women will still abort their pregnancies in order to save their own health and lives. They will now have no option but to undergo the still-legal alternatives, which involve dismembering the body of the fetus inside the uterus and requiring the woman to deliver fragments containing bone shards capable of perforating the uterus and lacerating the cervix.

So how is this dismemberment option any morally better than the method that’s just been ruled illegal?

Mnemosyne, in comments at Pandagon:

It seems that the entire justification for this ban is “eww gross.â€? Gee, that sure looks really awful.

You know what looks really awful? When a woman’s uterus and vagina are shredded by the shards of her anencephalitic baby’s skull when it gets crushed coming through the birth canal.

Oh, wait, I forgot — it’s far more morally problematic to abort a child that has zero chance of living more than a few hours (if it’s born alive at all) than it is to allow a woman to be permanently crippled giving birth to a dead, headless baby. My mistake.

Perforated uteruses and lacerated cervixes (and vaginas) mean that future pregnancies simply cannot be carried to term. These women with damaged organs who do fall pregnant subsequently then have the choice of suffering horribly complicated mid-term miscarriages, which may lead to lifethreatening haemorrhages, or having an early abortion to protect their health. This ruling clearly values not actually the life of the fetus over the mother’s (the fetus in such cases is doomed one way or another) but instead the feel-good avoidance of the “ewww” factor over the health and future fertility of women who want to be mothers.

Amanda Marcotte has a powerful post on how this ruling at its root devalues the lives of women by denying them independent value as autonomous beings. The comments thread is worth reading too, where commentor Mnemosyne puts it in a nutshell:

The right-wing can scream and cry about saving “babiesâ€? all they want, but this decision did nothing but harm women whose planned and wanted pregnancies went horribly, horribly wrong and left those women’s doctors with fewer options to save their patients’ fertility if they want to try again.

Updated to add: Excellent post at Balkinization about how the language in from Justice Kennedy about informed consent is the real big news, and how that language essentially casts women as irrational creatures who don’t really know their own minds.
Update: More reading : Intentionally Choosing at The Republic of T.


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Posted in feminism, Law, Medicine, Parenting, politics
15 comments on “The US Supreme Court's ruling on Gonzales v. Carhart
  1. tigtog,
    The point the US anti-abortion campaigners are making here is not “eww, gross”, it is a part of a continuing campaign to try to get abortion itself banned through a death of 1,000 cuts. They realise that trying to take out Roe vs. Wade in one jump will not succeed, despite the recent changes to the court, so taking action one step at a time is the next best thing.
    Please also do not confuse “anti-abortion” with “right-wing”, as “Mnemosyne” has done. Much of the left, at least historically, has also been strongly opposed to abortion. As with many questions of the freedom of the individual against the interference of the state, there is considerable confusion between positions of the “Left” and those of the “Right”.

  2. What Andrew said. I do think the anti-abortion munsters are after the whole shebang. I don’t think they’ll get it, mind you (Roberts is too respectful of judicial authority for that to happen). But they’ll take any small scraps on offer, if only so they can get their jollies through state interference in personal moral choices.

  3. professor rat says:

    Th lnr rghtwngnts stcked th crt. Ths s Drd Sctt tm gn.
    ts Gld n mrkkk.
    Mn Kmpf ws cnsdrbly wrttn/dtd by Cthlc prst.
    Htlr ws rsd s cthlc. H drmt f bng n bbt whn h ws yng.
    Htlr ws frvr stdyng th hrrchy f th Jst rgnstn.

    Hmmlr, hd f th SS, ws cthlc. Th SS ws st p n th Jst mdl.
    Gbbls ws cthlc.
    Hss, th cmp cmmndnt of Aschwtz, ws cthlc.
    Frnk,‘the btchr f Plnd’, ws cthlic.

    Mssln ws cthlc. Frnc ws cthlc. Slzr ws cthlc. Th wrst dcttrshps nd grtst scl inqults n Sth mrc r ndr cthlc dmnstrtns.

    [disemvoweled by moderator and link removed]

  4. tigtog says:


    I appreciate that the die-hards have a larger agenda. The point reached in the Pandagon thread at that point was that they’d managed to sway the ‘soft middle’ of the electorate largely through emotive descriptions of the IDX procedure that amounted to “ewww, gross”.


    It appears that the wedge part of the decision is the justification for dropping the health exception, leaving only the life exception. It’s on page 37 of the 39 page majority decision written by Justice Kennedy:

    This is the proper manner to protect the health of the woman if it can be shown that in discrete and well-defined instances a particular condition has or is likely to occur in which the procedure prohibited by the Act must be used. In an as-applied challenge the nature of the medical risk can be better quantified and balanced than in a facial attack. […]

    As the previous sections of this opinion explain, respondents have not demonstrated that the Act would be unconstitutional in a large fraction of relevant cases. Casey, supra, at 895 (opinion of the Court). We note that the statute here applies to all instances in which the doctor proposes to use the prohibited procedure, not merely those in which the woman suffers from medical complications. It is neither our obligation nor within our traditional institutional role to resolve questions of constitutionality with respect to each potential situation that might develop.

    It means women will have to show case by case that their particular termination should be granted a health exception because the ban shouldn’t apply in their particular instance, and when/if they win that exception won’t appply to any other woman who doesn’t have the exact same health threat.

    And how are women going to run such cases in the throes of a pregnancy health crisis? Kennedy doesn’t expect them to:

    It is a reasonable inference that a necessary effect of the regulation and the knowledge it conveys will be to encourage some women to carry the infant to full term, thus reducing the absolute number of late-term abortions.

    The increase in stillbirth and early infant mortality figures as these babies are delivered obviously doesn’t concern him nor the distress (and increased physical danger) of women forced to carry for weeks or months and deliver a foetus they know is not going to survive (for the minority of cases where the foetus is not alread dead and requiring immediate removal to prevent uterine infection).

    Justice Ginsburg’s dissent skewers Kennedy on this and most of his other rationalisations. How I wish she wasn’t 75.

  5. philip travers says:

    The Reynolds number has defined all the Left and all the right in a new way,that I cannot quite understand why,as to relevance,factual or by any other means.

  6. John McNair says:

    The end game of Gonzales and his “matesâ€? (Bush etc) is increasing the number of abortions, not decreasing it. He couldn’t care less about human rights. What more can one expect from this corrupt individual? Just look at one of the many schemes he’s involved in like this one:

  7. [typical slutshaming not relevant to this post deleted and moniker edited – moderator]

    Point all you want to the “wanted” pregnancies gone horribly wrong that might require abortion in late term, the medical facts don’t bear out the need for partial-birth abortion (or IDX or ID&E or however you want to classify it).

  8. tigtog says:

    So you know something that the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists doesn’t?

  9. Paul Norton says:

    Please also do not confuse “anti-abortionâ€? with “right-wingâ€?, as “Mnemosyneâ€? has done. Much of the left, at least historically, has also been strongly opposed to abortion. As with many questions of the freedom of the individual against the interference of the state, there is considerable confusion between positions of the “Leftâ€? and those of the “Rightâ€?.

    A fair point historically, and still true today in parts of Latin America and possibly other parts of the world, and true in Australia if you include socially and religiously conservative social democrats in your definition of the left. Having said that I have not come across anyone with anti-abortion views (as distinct from squeamishness about the issue) in my time in the ALP Left and the Greens, and such positions would be unheard-of in the contemporary far left.

  10. tigtog says:

    Excellent reading at Balkinization on the informed consent issues. Post updated to link.

  11. Christine Keeler says:

    I appreciate that the die-hards have a larger agenda.

    To make the uterus unconstitutional.

  12. Donatello says:

    h…th cnsrshp cwrds hv rrd thr gly hds. Gld t s tht frdm f spch s lv nd wll…s lng s y’r lbrl.
    TgDg, wht th CG clls prfrbl, th M clls “bd mdcnâ€? nd “bsclly rplsv.â€? S pck yr brd (bvsly y lrdy hv).

  13. ohplease says:

    You have to be kidding me if you think that intact d&e is acceptable. There are many other ways in which to abort a viable fetus. To entertain this idea that in the rare cases intact d&e is the the best choice is murder. For those who want the fetus early deliveries are available. I was born premature and have friends that have given birth to fetus’ at 16 weeks and the fetus is now a healthy child. For those who at the outset did not intend to keep the fetus, she should have had the abortion early on. Kennedy was right to analyze the issue with the as-applied standard. The fact of the matter is still, where is the line drawn between an abortion and infantcide?

  14. tigtog says:

    You do not have a friend who gave birth to a 16 weeks fetus which is now a healthy child. If you did the whole world would know about that child, because that is at least 5 weeks earlier than the earliest known surviving premature infant (who is a sickly mentally and physically disabled child, not a healthy child).

    Intact D&Es are only ever undertaken when (a) the foetus is not viable (thus those arguments of yours are invalid) or (b) the mother needs to stop being pregnant urgently in order to deal with a life-threatening medical condition, in which cases intact D&E is the quickest way to evacuate the womb so that maternal-lifesaving treatment can begin (as well as protecting her future fertility).

    You care so little about the health, lives and future fertility of women that you are willing to lie.

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