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The State of Nebraska passed a law outlawing an abortion method commonly used in the second trimester. The procedure was known in the medical profession as dilation and evacuation. Following a legal challenge, the United States Supreme Court struck the Nebraska law down as unconstitutional.
Shortly after, Congress passed the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003. The act barred dilation and evacuation of intact fetuses, commonly referred to as “partial-birth abortions” by pro-life advocates. The act made no exception allowing the procedure if necessary to protect the mother’s health.
LeRoy Carhart and other doctors challenged the federal ban, arguing that the law was both void for vagueness and unduly burdensome on women’s right to abortions. In Gonzales v. Carhart, 550 U.S. 124 (2007), the United States Supreme Court considered the constitutionality of the federal act.
A sharply divided Court held the act constitutional. The majority concluded that the act described the procedure with sufficient specificity to survive the vagueness challenge. Further, the Court held that the law did not place a substantial obstacle in the way of women seeking abortions, even without a maternal-health exception, because other second-trimester abortion procedures were not prohibited.
Significantly, this was the first case in which the Supreme Court upheld an abortion restriction without a health exception since Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. (1973).