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Context of 'December 1995: Congress Outlaws ‘Partial-Birth Abortion’'

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Headline from the New York Times regarding the ‘Roe’ decision.Headline from the New York Times regarding the ‘Roe’ decision. [Source: RubeReality (.com)]The US Supreme Court, in a 7-2 decision, legalizes abortion on a federal level in the landmark case of Roe v. Wade. The majority opinion is written by Justice Harry Blackmun; he is joined by Chief Justice Warren Burger and Justices William O. Douglas, William Brennan, Potter Stewart, Thurgood Marshall, and Lewis Powell. Justices Byron “Whizzer” White and William Rehnquist dissent from the opinion. Blackmun’s majority opinion finds that the 14th Amendment’s guarantees of personal liberty and previous decisions protecting privacy in family matters include a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy. White’s dissent argues that the Court has “fashion[ed] and announce[d] a new constitutional right for pregnant mothers and, with scarcely any reason or authority for its action, invest[ed] that right with sufficient substance to override most existing state abortion statutes.” The decision does not make abortion freely available to women in any stage of pregnancy. It places the following constraints:
bullet No restrictions on availability are made during the first trimester (three months) of a woman’s pregnancy.
bullet Because of increased risks to a woman’s health during the second trimester, the state may regulate the abortion procedure only “in ways that are reasonably related to maternal health.”
bullet In the third and final trimester, since the rate of viability (live birth) is markedly greater than in the first two trimesters, the state can restrict or even prohibit abortions as it chooses, “except where it is necessary, in appropriate medical judgment, for the preservation of the life or health of the mother.”
Originally brought to challenge a Texas law prohibiting abortions, the decision disallows a host of state and federal restrictions on abortion, and sparks an enormous controversy over the moral, religious, and legal viability of abortion that continues well into the 21st century. [ROE v. WADE, 410 US 113 (1973), 1/22/1973; CNN, 1/22/2003; National Abortion Federation, 2010] In a related case, Roe v. Bolton, the Court strikes down restrictions on facilities that can be used to provide abortions. The ruling leads to the establishment of so-called “abortion clinics.” [CBS News, 4/19/2007]

Entity Tags: Potter Stewart, Byron White, Lewis Powell, Harry Blackmun, William Rehnquist, US Supreme Court, William O. Douglas, Warren Burger, William Brennan, Thurgood Marshall

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Civil Liberties

An amendment to a Congressional appropriations bill is signed into law. The amendment, sponsored by Representative Henry Hyde (D-IL), prohibits the use of certain federal funds to fund abortions, and primarily affects Medicaid payments. It will quickly become known as the Hyde Amendment and will be renewed every year thereafter. The amendment is a response to the 1973 legalization of abortion by the US Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision (see January 22, 1973), and represents the first major victory by anti-abortion forces to restrict the availability of abortions in the US. Many abortion advocates say the amendment unfairly targets low-income women, effectively denying them access to abortions, and restricts abortions to women who can pay for them. A 2000 study will show that up to 35 percent of women eligible for Medicaid would have had abortions had public funding been available to them; instead, they carried their pregnancies to term against their own wishes. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) will call the amendment “discriminatory.” In 1993, the wording of the Hyde Amendment will be modified to read, “None of the funds appropriated under this Act shall be expended for any abortion except when it is made known to the federal entity or official to which funds are appropriated under this Act that such procedure is necessary to save the life of the mother or that the pregnancy is the result of an act of rape or incest.” The wording will remain the same for the next 17 years. As the amendment covers only federal spending, some states, including Hawaii and New York, cover abortions. Court challenges will result in the forcible coverage of abortions in other states. [American Civil Liberties Union, 7/21/2004; National Abortion Federation, 2006; National Committee for a Human Life Amendment, 3/2008 pdf file]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court, American Civil Liberties Union, Henry Hyde

Timeline Tags: US Health Care

Congress passes H.R. 1833, a bill that outlaws a specific type of abortion known as intact dilation and extraction, a procedure often performed during the third and final trimester of a pregnancy due to medical complications. One of the bill’s sponsors, Representative Charles Canady (R-FL), inaccurately calls the procedure “partial-birth abortion,” and the moniker is widely adopted by anti-abortion advocates. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and other medical organizations object to the nickname, calling it inaccurate and potentially inflammatory. [American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, 9/22/2006; CBS News, 4/19/2007] President Clinton will successfully veto the bill (see April 1996).

Entity Tags: Charles Canady, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists

Timeline Tags: US Health Care

President Clinton vetoes a bill outlawing so-called “partial-birth abortions” (see December 1995), saying the legislation should include a provision to allow the abortion procedure if needed to protect a woman’s health as well as her life. Congress fails to override the veto. [CBS News, 4/19/2007]

Entity Tags: William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton

Timeline Tags: US Health Care

President Bush signs a bill into law banning so-called “partial-birth abortions.” A similar bill was vetoed by then-President Clinton in 1996 (see April 1996). The bill signing is part of a ceremony of abortion opposition featuring some 400 lawmakers and anti-abortion advocates. The new law, known as the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act, is the first time the federal goverment has banned an abortion procedure since the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalized abortions (see January 22, 1973). A federal judge in Nebraska has already said the law may be unconstitutional, and many observers expect it to be challenged. [CBS News, 4/19/2007] Three years later, the Supreme Court will uphold the law (see April 17, 2007).

Entity Tags: George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: US Health Care

Three separate federal courts rule that the federal ban on so-called “partial-birth abortions” (see November 5, 2003) is unconstitutional. One judge rules that the law illegally infringes on a woman’s right to choose. A second and third rule that the law must contain a provision excepting such a procedure in the case of a danger to the mother’s life or health. The case will be appealed to the Supreme Court (see April 17, 2007). [CBS News, 4/19/2007]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court

Timeline Tags: US Health Care

In a 5-4 decision splitting the court between conservatives and moderate/liberal justices, the Supreme Court upholds the 2003 ban on so-called “partial-birth abortions.” The Court rules that the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act does not violate a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion. [CBS News, 4/19/2007]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court

Timeline Tags: US Health Care

Frances Kissling.Frances Kissling. [Source: University of Pennsylvania]Frances Kissling, the former head of pro-choice organization Catholics for a Free Choice, writes that the pro-choice movement made a grievous mistake in not successfully opposing the so-called “Hyde Amendment,” which since 1976 has denied federal funding for abortions in most instances (see September 30, 1976). Kissling is spurred to write in part by President Obama’s recent characterization of the Hyde Amendment as an “American tradition.” She writes: “It seems that pro-choice legislators, following the president’s lead, now explicitly consider that throwing women who cannot afford to pay for their own abortions under the bus is a reasonable compromise between those who favor and those who oppose legal abortion and a sensible concession to those who think abortion is immoral. The compromise is the logical outcome of one of Roe’s essential weaknesses: the fact that the constitutional right to abortion was based on the principle of privacy rather than non-discrimination. A private right, even a fundamental one, did not, according to the Supreme Court, require the state to pay for its implementation.” Kissling notes that in the years when Hyde was under consideration, the nascent pro-choice movement, in a decision “[b]ased substantially on the advice of direct-mail and political consultants,” decided to let Hyde go through without serious opposition, and focused instead on the “less real” threat of an anti-abortion constitutional amendment. Kissling writes: “The advice was clear and classist. It accepted the racism that lay buried in middle class hostility to poor women, ‘welfare queens,’ and the ‘sexually promiscuous’—all those who might be expected to look to Medicaid to pay for abortions—whom the rest of us should not support.” In hindsight, Kissling writes: “[n]ot concentrating on overturning Hyde was arguably the worst decision the mainstream choice movement made.… [T]he largely unchallenged Hyde Amendment emboldened anti-abortion groups to pick off powerless constituencies one at a time.” Instead of working to restore federal funding for abortions for women unable to pay for their own procedures, the pro-choice movement has, Kissling writes, taken on far more unpopular issues such as so-called “partial-birth” abortions (see April 1996 and November 5, 2003), but has never mounted a clear and unified challenge to Hyde. Kissling calls on the pro-choice movement to mount just such a challenge, and to continue to do so until Hyde is overturned. [Women's Media Center, 1/3/2010]

Entity Tags: Frances Kissling, Barack Obama

Timeline Tags: US Health Care

Legatus logo.Legatus logo. [Source: ProLife Dallas (.org)]Former President George W. Bush is honored by Legatus, a Florida-based Catholic group for business and civic leaders, for his opposition to reproductive rights during his presidency. Bush receives the “Cardinal John J. O’Connor Pro-Life Award,” named for the famously anti-abortion Catholic leader. The organization notes Bush’s opposition to stem-cell research, his executive order banning the use of federal funds for abortions (see November 5, 2003), his appointment of anti-abortion advocates to the Supreme Court (see October 31, 2005 - February 1, 2006 and September 29, 2005), and his designation of January 18, 2009 as “National Sanctity of Human Life Day.” The award is given at a private meeting in Dana Point, California. The event is only open to members of Legatus and their guests, and the registration fee is $1,475 per person. A Legatus official tells a reporter: “His appearance is going to be a private appearance on behalf of our organization. He will be delivering remarks for us and all of that will be a private presentation.” Event chairperson Kathleen Eaton says: “I’ve been speaking to a number of Legatus chapters about the summit, and people are really excited. It’s been a rough year on a number of fronts and they really need this shot in the arm. They want to come together to pray and learn more about what the church is saying on different issues.” Local pro-choice and peace groups mount a protest; one organizer, Sharon Tipton, tells a reporter: “Over one million Iraqi people have been killed, mostly women and children. Bush is responsible for over 5 million new orphans, and we just found out that Bush is receiving a pro-life award? This is outrageous!” [Catholic News Agency, 1/8/2010; Orange County Weekly, 2/3/2010]

Entity Tags: Sharon Tipton, Legatus, George W. Bush, Kathleen Eaton

Timeline Tags: US Health Care

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