GLORIA FELDT: Court decision on abortion disrespects women, doctors

The Supreme Court's recent decision upholding the federal abortion ban drips with disrespect for women and their physicians. The case, known as Gonzales v. Carhart, marks the culmination of a major campaign to limit access to abortion and the beginning of the next onslaught to outlaw all reproductive rights for all women at all times.

The court - which now includes Bush appointees Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito, in addition to anti-choice Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas - created an ominous new precedent.

Writing for the 5-4 majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy invoked the 1992 decision in Casey v. Planned Parenthood, which allowed states to restrict abortions even early in pregnancy as long as those restrictions are not an "undue burden."

Yet if stripping away protection for a woman's health, as the Gonzales decision does, isn't an undue burden, what is?

If allowing the government to criminalize a doctor for providing what he or she judges best for the patient's health and future fertility isn't an undue burden, what is?

If valuing fetal life more than the pregnant woman's isn't an undue burden to women's equality and moral autonomy, what in the world is?

Justice Ginsburg's dissent nails it perfectly: "The solution the court approves, then, is not to require doctors to inform women, accurately and adequately, of the different procedures and their attendant risks. Instead, the court deprives women of the right to make an autonomous choice, even at the expense of their safety. This way of thinking reflects ancient notions about women's place in the family and under the Constitution, ideas that have long since been discredited."

This decision invites Congress and the states to ban other abortion methods in the future, and the logic of the justices undermines the right to an abortion.

Supporters of women's reproductive rights, women's health and justice for women need to take three steps to reverse the damage of Gonzales v. Carhart.

First, address the big picture. Abortion isn't about abortion. It's about whether women will have an equal place at life's table. As Cecilia Fire Thunder, chief of the Oglala Sioux tribe said, "It's time for women to reclaim their bodies."

Second, build a human rights basis for reproductive justice that affirms the legal right, moral framework and practical access to birth control, comprehensive sex education and economic justice so women can make uncoerced decisions about whether to beget, bear or not bear a child.

Finally, understand that just because legislators can pass abortion bans doesn't mean they must pass such bans. It's up to voters to tell politicians at the ballot box what policies we want. Elections matter.

The nation's highest court did a disservice to women and a disservice to all those who believe the government has no place in our personal childbearing choices. Now it is up to us, as citizens, to reverse the justices' decision.


Gloria Feldt is author of "The War on Choice: the Right-Wing Attack on Women's Rights and How to Fight Back" (Bantam, 2004), former president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. The writer wrote this for Progressive Media Project, a source of liberal commentary on domestic and international issues; it is affiliated with The Progressive magazine. Readers may write to the author at: Progressive Media Project, 409 East Main Street, Madison, Wis. 53703; e-mail:; Web site: For information on PMP's funding, please visit

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