Abortion Ruling Could Be O'Connor's Last

If the confirmation vote on Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito goes as scheduled, today's unanimous ruling that a lower court was wrong to strike down New Hampshire's abortion restrictions could be Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's last.

O'Connor helped pen today's ruling, which said a lower court had gone too far by permanently blocking the law that requires that a parent be told before a daughter ends her pregnancy.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to vote on Alito's Supreme Court nomination on Tuesday. If confirmed, Alito, 55, a federal appeals court judge since 1990, would replace O'Connor, who has often been the swing vote on the nine-member Court on abortion, civil rights and other social issues.

If Alito is confirmed, as expected, today's would likely be O'Connor's last decision. It also likely marks the last time she will hear oral arguments. The next round of oral arguments before the Supreme Court is scheduled for Feb. 21.

Abortion Case Back to Lower Court

In today's decision, O'Connor ruled that the lower courts were wrong to invalidate an entire parental-notification statute. She helped send the case back to the lower court so that it could reconsider the part of the law that makes no exception for the health of the mother.

"In some very small percentage of cases, pregnant minors, like adult women, need immediate abortions to avert serious and often irreversible damage to their health," she wrote.

A lower appeals court must now reconsider the law, which requires that a parent be informed 48 hours before a minor has an abortion but makes no exception for a medical emergency.

Alito on Abortion

Alito's record on issues such as civil rights and reproductive rights have troubled some liberal groups. During his confirmation hearing last week, he said he would keep an "open mind" on the issue of abortion.

He has been a frequent dissenter on the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, known as one of the most liberal federal appellate benches in the nation.

Abortion rights and women's rights groups have opposed Alito because he has voted to uphold certain abortion regulations. In 1992, Alito dissented in Planned Parenthood vs. Casey, a case in which the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court struck down a provision requiring women who soubht abortions to notify their spouses.

"The Pennsylvania legislature could have rationally believed that some married women are initially inclined to obtain an abortion without their husbands' knowledge because of perceived problems -- such as economic constraints, future plans or the husbands' previously expressed opposition -- that may be obviated by discussion prior to the abortion," Alito wrote.

The Planned Parenthood case ultimately ended up at the Supreme Court, where the justices, in a 6-3 decision, struck down the spousal-notification provision.

Alito, however, upheld a ruling in 2000 that found a New Jersey law banning partial-birth abortions unconstitutional. In his concurring opinion, he said that "any limits on abortion must have an exception for the preservation of the health of the mother."