Court of Appeals Rules that Abortion Laws Do Not Always Require Health Exceptions

Feb 27, 2006

On February 24, 2006, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a "per se" requirement that all abortion statutes must contain an exception to protect the health or life of the mother in order to be constitutional.

In September 2000, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved mifespristone (RU-486) to induce abortion without surgical intervention. Absent state regulation, once a drug is approved by the FDA, doctors may prescribe it for indications and in dosages other than those expressly approved by the FDA. This practice is called "off-label" use. In 2004, Ohio passed a law that prohibited off-label use of RU-486, thus requiring that any use of RU-486 be in strict compliance with the FDA approved use.

The trial court blocked the entire law from going into effect, in part, because it did not contain a health exception. In Planned Parenthood Cincinnati Region v. Taft, the appeals court ruled that laws which regulate abortion are not always required to have a health exception. Relying on the Supreme Court's unanimous decision in Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood issued on January 18, 2006, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals also ruled that lower courts may not strike down entire statutes when a narrow ruling is possible.

The Planned Parenthood Cincinnati Region v. Taft case is significant for two reasons: (1) the court ruled that a health exception is not always necessary for laws restricting abortion, and (2) the ruling is the first application of the Supreme Court's decision in Ayotte. When the High Court handed down Ayotte several weeks ago, Liberty Counsel stated that the decision will make it more difficult to strike down abortion laws in their entirety based on actual or hypothetical applications when only a small portion of the law conflicts with current Supreme Court precedent. This case illustrates that striking down abortion laws will become much more difficult in the future.

Mathew D. Staver, President and General Counsel of Liberty Counsel, commented on the case: "Roe v. Wade is being chipped away one case at a time. The time will soon come when we will look back on the Roe v. Wade decision with disgust, in the same way we disdain past Supreme Court cases that once established the 'separate but equal' doctrine or that sanctioned the internment of Japanese-Americans."