Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood

A new U.S. Supreme Court session is now underway with a number of potentially groundbreaking cases on the docket. Host Farai Chideya reports on one of the most highly watched cases: Ayotte versus Planned Parenthood of Northern New England.

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FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

From NPR News, this is NEWS & NOTES. I'm Farai Chideya. Ed Gordon is away.

The Supreme Court convened last week with Chief Justice John Roberts and a full slate of new and controversial cases. One of the most highly watched is Ayotte vs. Planned Parenthood of Northern New England. The case stems from a 2003 New Hampshire law requiring minors seeking abortions to inform their parents. But it was struck down as unconstitutional because it does not have an exception to protect the life or health of the mother. Karen Pearl is the interim president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

Ms. KAREN PEARL (Interim President, Planned Parenthood Federation of America): If in Ayotte women's health doesn't matter, then states can go about passing laws where health simply is not an exception, affecting women of all ages potentially across this country.

CHIDEYA: The American Center for Law and Justice supports New Hampshire's law. Walter Weber is a senior litigator who filed a friend of the court brief on behalf of the state.

Mr. WALTER WEBER (Litigator): Look, you have to keep in mind that there are harms on both sides of the equation. Every time you allow secret abortions, abortions by minors where they don't tell their parents, you come with a cost for that. And the cost is in terms of potential harm to the minors and to the family relationship and other things.

CHIDEYA: Like Planned Parenthood's Pearl, Weber believes the case could have wider ramifications.

Mr. WEBER: The court has faced this issue again and again, whether it's parental notice or parental consent. And what the court has said is there needs to be a judicial bypass option that covers those cases broadly defined where the girl cannot or fears that she can't go to her parents, either for consent or notice. Actually, although it's a very small sliver of territory, the battle is being fought at a very high level of abstraction. They are saying, the challengers, that every law that regulates abortion has to have a blanket health exception in it. And in this case, that plays out in that small area. But if they were to win on that ground, that would have ramifications for every law that regulates abortion.

CHIDEYA: Now eyes turn to Harriet Miers, President Bush's second nominee to the Supreme Court. Both sides in the Ayotte case see her vote, if she is confirmed, as key. Miers, who has never been a judge, bought a ticket to a Texas anti-abortion fund-raiser in 1989, but Planned Parenthood's Karen Pearl says that her personal views on abortion aren't the issue, only her legal judgment.

Ms. PEARL: We don't know whether she will be somebody who, like Sandra Day O'Connor, has protected women's health and safety or in the area of civil rights, somebody like Clarence Thomas, who was brought on for the purpose of having a more diverse court, who ended up being a blow to civil rights. We need to know, and the Senate needs to ask, and we need to find out where she stands and from what perspective she will view the law.

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