Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens denied an emergency request by an Indiana man Wednesday for an order preventing his estranged wife from having an abortion.
Women's rights groups charged that the petition to the high court justice was part of a systematic campaign by abortion foes to undermine the right of women to terminate unwanted pregnancies.Erin Conn, 23, had asked Stevens to bar his 19-year-old wife, Jennifer, from having an abortion. The unsuccessful emergency petition had been filed by James Bopp, a lawyer for an anti-abortion group.
In the application, Bopp, general counsel for the National Right to Life Committee, said Conn has a right to see the pregnancy carried to term and "is willing and able to pay all necessary expenses related to prenatal care and childbirth of their child."
The case is the second of its kind to reach the high court since June. On June 14, Stevens and Justice Byron White denied the request of another Indiana man to prevent a woman's abortion.
Marsha Levick, executive director of the NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund, said Bopp's action was one of "an alarming number of cases initiated by men seeking to stop women from having abortions based on their alleged status as father of the fetuses.
"Though not publicly coordinated as such, these cases appear to reflect a conscious and continuing strategy by the anti-choice movement to thwart women's exercise of their reproductive rights," she said.
So far this year, there have been six known cases in state courts in which men have tried to stop wives or girlfriends from aborting fetuses they claim to have fathered, Levick said.
Three of those cases were in Indiana and the others were in New York, Minnesota and Utah. In all the cases, the women either were allowed to have the abortion or defied court orders preventing it.
In March, a Utah man was granted a request for a temporary restraining order barring his wife from an abortion. But a week later the order was lifted by a ruling that there was no legal basis for the order. An hour later the Utah Court of Appeals granted another temporary restraining order. However, by the time the order was served on the mother she had already obtained an abortion.
The husband, Jon Michael Reynolds, has taken the issue of parental rights involving unborn children to the Utah Court of Appeals.
In another New York case, a man sought money damages from his wife after she got an abortion without his permission.
The Conns, who already have a 6-month-old daughter, are in the midst of divorce proceedings. Erin Conn contends that his wife threatened the abortion because she does not want him to have custody of the child.
Jennifer Conn, who lives in Morristown, Ind., is about nine weeks pregnant, according to court documents.
On June 27, Shelby County Judge Robert Thopy issued a preliminary injunction that barred Mrs. Conn from having an abortion at the risk of facing contempt of court charges.
The Indiana Court of Appeals overturned the order July 12, ruling that Mrs. Conn has "an unconditioned right to have an abortion" in the first three months of pregnancy. The Indiana Supreme Court upheld the decision, but gave Bopp until Friday to appeal the matter to the nation's highest court.
In a response brief filed with Justice Stevens, Mrs. Conn's lawyer said her husband "has no legally cognizable interest that is harmed by Jennifer's decision to have an abortion."
In its landmark Roe vs. Wade ruling in 1973, the Supreme Court ruled a woman has an unqualified right to an abortion in the first three months of pregnancy. In 1976, the court said a husband cannot veto his wife's decision to end her pregnancy.