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Bench Memos

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Misstatements of Ayotte’s Holding



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This Los Angeles Times article clips a quote from the Court’s opinion in Ayotte in a way that dramatically changes its meaning. The article attributes to the unanimous Court the proposition that “A state may not restrict access to abortions that are necessary, in appropriate medical judgment, for preservation of the life or health of the mother.” It then states that Planned Parenthood and the ACLU “welcomed the court’s ruling that doctors must be permitted to act immediately in cases of a medical emergency.”

In fact, there was no such ruling in the case. The Court merely noted that “New Hampshire does not dispute, and our precedents hold, that a State may not restrict access to abortions that are ‘”necessary, in appropriate medical judgment, for preservation of the life or health of the mother.”‘” (Citations omitted.) Justices like Scalia and Thomas were able to join the Court’s opinion because this issue was not contested in the case and because the passage merely described what the Court had previously held. Neither they nor the rest of the Court were ruling on the issue.



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