Court Ruling Energizes Aborltion Activists (posted July 2, 2000)

The recent Supreme Court decision overturning a Nebraska ban on partial birth abortions is sure to energize activists on both sides of the abortion debate. The narrow 5-4 ruling demonstrates how closely contested the court has become on a wide number of issues from abortion to affirmative action and how the appointment of 1-2 new justices could tip the balance one way or another. The abortion decision is interesting because although the court sided with pro-choice forces, it represents a slippage from the 6-3 vote on Webster in 1992, the last major abortion case to be decided by the court. Pro-life forces claim that the shift of Anthony Kennedy from pro-choice to pro-life on the partial birth issue represents a victory for them because it shows he is open to their arguments even when there is no provision requiring freedom of choice in cases where the health of the mother is at stake.

While the abortion decision already was attracting considerable attention in the presidential campaign between Bush and Gore, the closeness of the vote and the switch of Justice Kennedy is sure to increase interest in how the campaign will affect the court and abortion policy. The partial birth abortion ruling is noteworthy because two-thirds of Americans disapprove of the procedure.