Stenberg v. Carhart Case Brief

Why is the case important?

A Nebraska law provided that no partial birth abortion shall be performed in the state, unless such procedure is necessary to save the life of the mother. The constitutionality of the Nebraska law was brought into question.

Facts of the case

“A Nebraska law prohibited any “”partial birth abortion”” unless that procedure was necessary to save the mother’s life. It defined “”partial birth abortion”” as a procedure in which the doctor “”partially delivers vaginally a living unborn child before killing the… child,”” and defined the latter phrase to mean “”intentionally delivering into the vagina a living unborn child, or a substantial portion thereof, for the purpose of performing a procedure that the [abortionist] knows will kill the… child and does kill the… child.”” Violation of the law is a felony, and it provides for the automatic revocation of a convicted doctor’s state license to practice medicine. Leroy Carhart, a Nebraska physician who performs abortions in a clinical setting, brought suit seeking a declaration that the statute violates the U.S. Constitution, claiming the law was unconstitutionally vague and placed an undue burden on himself and female patients seeking abortions. The District Court held the statute unconstitutional. The Court of Appeals affirmed.”


Did the Nebraska statute, banning the performance of a partial birth abortion, violate the United States Constitution?


The relevant case law ((Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973)

  • Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833 (1992)) requires an exception, in the regulation of abortions, where it is necessary to preserve the life or health of the mother. But, the Nebraska law, designed for the purpose of banning the D&amp
  • X, lacks any exception for the health of the mother. Medical evidence shows that in some circumstances the D&amp
  • X would be a safer procedure. Thus, the statute may, under certain circumstances, improperly subject a woman to a potentially riskier method of abortion. The State fails to show that banning D&amp
  • X without a health exception would not create a significant health risk for women.
    Although it was the intent of the Nebraska legislature to ban only the D&amp
  • E, the plain language of the statute is reasonably susceptible to the interpretation that the ban was intended to apply to both the D&amp
  • X and the D&amp
  • E. Thus, the statute imposes an undue burden on a woman’s right to an abortion before fetal viability.”


    The Supreme Court held that the statute was unconstitutional because it lacked any exception for the preservation of the health of the mother. Where substantial medical authority supported the proposition that banning a particular abortion procedure could endanger women’s health, a prohibitory statute must include a health exception when the procedure is necessary, in appropriate medical judgment, for the preservation of the life or health of the mother. The statute was also unconstitutional because it imposed an undue burden on a woman’s ability to choose a more common abortion procedure, thereby unduly burdening the right to choose abortion itself. The Court rejected a proffered narrowing interpretation of the statute because it conflicted with statutory language, and held that it was not required to certify the interpretation question to state court because the statute was not fairly susceptible to a narrowing construction.

    • Case Brief: 2000
    • Petitioner: Stenberg
    • Respondent: Carhart
    • Decided by: Rehnquist Court

    Citation: 530 US 914 (2000)
    Argued: Apr 25, 2000
    Decided: Jun 28, 2000