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A law which serves a valid purpose, one not designed to strike at the right itself, that has the incidental effect of making it more difficult or more expensive to procure an abortion cannot be enough to invalidate it. The State, from the inception of a pregnancy, maintains its own regulatory interest in protecting the life of the fetus that may become a child. Where it has a rational basis to act, and it does not impose an undue burden, the State may use its regulatory power to bar certain procedures and substitute others, all in furtherance of its legitimate interests in regulating the medical profession in order to promote respect for life, including life of the unborn.
Petitioner Gonzales, the United States Attorney General, sought certiorari review of judgments from the United States Courts of Appeals for the Eighth and Ninth Circuits affirming district court rulings in favor of respondents, abortion doctors and abortion advocacy groups. The rulings found the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003, 18 U.S.C.S. § 1531, unconstitutional on its face and enjoined petitioner from enforcing the Act.
Did the Court of Appeals err in its judgments finding the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003 unconstitutional on its face?
The Court applied the Casey standard, which included the central premise that the Government had a legitimate, substantial interest in preserving and promoting fetal life. The Court concluded that this premise would be repudiated if it affirmed the judgments. The Court held that the Act, on its face, was not void for vagueness and did not impose an undue burden from any overbreadth. The Court rejected Carhart’s contention that the scope of the Act was indefinite. The Act clearly proscribed performing only the intact dilation and evacuation procedure. Further, the Act's scienter requirement narrowed the scope of the Act's prohibition and limited prosecutorial discretion. The restrictions on second-trimester abortions were not too broad because the Act provided specific anatomical landmarks and included an overt-act requirement. The Court also held that the Act's failure to allow the banned procedure's use where necessary for the mother's health did not have the effect of imposing an unconstitutional burden of the abortion right because safe medical options were available. The Court found that the proper means to consider exceptions was by as-applied rather than facial challenges.