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O'Connor Retirement and Reproductive Rights

July 1, 2005

On July 1, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court, announced her retirement after having served for 24 years. Because Justice O’Connor has cast the deciding vote in many Supreme Court decisions, particularly those dealing with abortion, reproductive rights advocates fear that her departure may pave the way for overturning Roe v. Wade and restricting American women’s access to safe abortion.

O’Connor wrote the majority opinion in Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, the 1992 decision reaffirming Roe’s holding that a state cannot prohibit abortion prior to fetal viability. More recently, she voted with the majority in the 2003 Lawrence v. Texas decision upholding the right of gay adults to engage in consensual sex.

The next abortion-related case facing the Supreme Court is Planned Parenthood of Northern New England v. Ayotte, which raises the question of whether a New Hampshire law requiring a minor to have parental consent for abortion must include an exception to protect a young woman’s health. This is one of several types of abortion restrictions being considered or implemented in the states, any one of which could potentially reach the Supreme Court and provide grounds for undermining or even overturning Roe v. Wade.

Click on the links below for more information on:

The impact on women’s health and lives of unsafe abortions before Roe and what happens to women in countries where abortion is illegal today

The reproductive rights implications of Lawrence v. Texas

O’Connor’s views on health exceptions in laws restricting abortion and the health exception cases that could soon reach the Court

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