Bill Adair: Landmark In Abortion Law Unlikely With Current Case

The abortion case before the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday was billed as a possible turning point. Groups on both sides held demonstrations outside the building. The head of NARAL Pro-Choice America called the case "monumental."

After all, the court is changing. Chief Justice John Roberts took over in October after the death of William Rehnquist, and federal judge Samuel Alito has been nominated to replace the retiring Sandra Day O'Connor.

But an hourlong argument Wednesday over a New Hampshire law requiring parents be notified before a minor has an abortion suggested the justices are approaching the case very narrowly. They showed little interest in using it to make a sweeping change in abortion law.

And even if O'Connor's replacement takes a stronger stand against abortion rights than she has, it appears a majority of justices will still uphold the landmark case of Roe vs. Wade. " "Roe, " said legal historian David Garrow, "is not in play."

The case Wednesday was about a New Hampshire law that requires parents be notified at least 48 hours before a minor can have an abortion. The only exception is when an abortion is necessary to prevent the minor's death.
The case was the first significant abortion controversy to come before the court in five years and the first for Roberts. His comments were limited to the New Hampshire law, but he sounded supportive of the law even if the health provision had to be struck down.
Garrow, the legal historian who has written extensively about abortion laws, had said earlier in the week that the New Hampshire case might be a turning point for the court. But after he saw Wednesday's argument, he said the justices were approaching the case so narrowly that they did not seem ready for a dramatic change.

"This is not going to be remembered as a landmark case 10 years from now," he said.
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