Tuesday, June 4, 2019
The Supreme Court decided Box v. Planned Parenthood without full briefing or oral argument and issuing a per curiam opinion. It upheld Indiana's fetal remains law, but denied cert on the second question regarding the law prohibiting abortion for fetal diagnosis or disability. Justice Sotomayor would have denied cert on both questions. Justice Ginsburg dissented, and would have applied a higher standard of scrutiny because the case implicated “the right of [a] woman to choose to have an abortion before viability and to obtain it without undue interference from the State." Justice Thomas dissented from the denial of cert on the second question. Ginsburg criticized Thomas' opinion, saying it "displays more heat than light."
The Supreme Court on Tuesday agreed to a compromise on Indiana’s contested abortion law, an outcome that revealed its openness to state restrictions on the procedure but also apparently favored a cautious and incremental path in confronting one of the nation’s enduring controversies.
On one hand, the court upheld a part of Indiana’s 2016 law that places new restrictions on the disposal of fetal remains after an abortion. It reversed a decision by a lower court without the customary briefing and oral arguments.
But the court said it would not revive another part of the law, which would have prohibited abortions if the woman chose the procedure because of a diagnosis or “potential diagnosis” of Down syndrome or “any other disability,” or because of the fetus’s gender or race.
The Indiana case was closely watched because it was the first time the conservative court, reinforced by the addition of President Trump’s two nominees, had the opportunity to take a case with consequences for the constitutional protections found in Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey.
Tuesday’s decision in Box v. Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentuckyheld no consequences for either Roe or Casey. But it appeared to be a commencement of the new court’s consideration of abortion rights, and many cases are waiting in the wings.***
The unsigned opinion of the court, just three pages long, was matter-of-fact and devoid of broad holdings. Only Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor said they would have let the lower court’s rejections stay in place; fellow liberals Stephen G. Breyer and Elena Kagan were silent.
But there were signs of tension. Justice Clarence Thomas wrote a 20-page statement linking abortion to the eugenics policies popular in the 19th and early 20th centuries. He added in a footnote that Ginsburg’s objection to the fetal-remains portion of the law “makes little sense.”
She responded by correcting his use of the word “mother” throughout his opinion. “A woman who exercises her constitutionally protected right to terminate a pregnancy is not a ‘mother,’ ” she wrote.
The portion of the Indiana law the court allowed to go into effect mandates that the “remains” of an abortion or miscarriage be buried or cremated, as required of other human remains.
See Mary Ziegler, What Clarence Thomas Gets Wrong About Abortion and Eugenics
This is a dark history, but it is not the tidy, simple one that Thomas describes. Many population controllers actually opposed legal abortion or viewed it as irrelevant. They shared the worries of their eugenicist forbears that giving women a choice would not do enough to reduce demographic growth.
More important, many in the population control movement had no interest in eugenics. Cold warriors hoped that curbing demographic growth would prevent developing countries from turning to communism. Environmentalists believed that population control could conserve scarce environmental resources. And feminists believed that population control could facilitate the liberation of women.
The converse was also true: Unlike the synergy of belief conveyed by Thomas, some abortion rights supporters had no use for population rhetoric, viewing it as unethical and counterproductive, regardless of the political benefits. Contrary to what Thomas suggests, these voices grew louder after Roe, when feminists took on more influential roles in major abortion rights organizations. These groups understood that population arguments could smack of coercion — antithetical to their beliefs about choice and freedom — and alienate people of color both in the United States and in developing countries. And feminists increasingly argued that women had a right to abortion regardless of its policy consequences.