Protestor disrupts Supreme Court hearing on abortion

A screaming man charged through the main doors of the Supreme Court’s chambers during a hearing in a contentious abortion case Wednesday.

“Abortion is a sin,” shouted the man, later identified by court officials as Rives Miller Grogan. Four court employees dragged him out of the courtroom.

Grogan’s last known residence is in Los Angeles. He was taken to the U.S. Capitol Booking Center before being transported to D.C. Superior Court.

He was charged with creating a noise disturbance, resisting arrest and other related offenses, a Supreme Court spokesman said.

Some spectators left their seats and headed toward the door. None of the justices said anything about the disturbance. Such disturbances are rare in the well-guarded court chamber. Court regulars said the last one they remembered was in1983 when Hustler publisher Larry Flynt shouted obscenities during a hearing in his own case.

In less than a minute, the lawyer who had been speaking resumed her remarks, although the man’s screams could still be heard in the hallway.

The court was hearing two abortion cases, Gonzales v. Carhart and Gonzales v. Planned Parenthood, both challenging the constitutionality of the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003.

Opponents argue the law is invalid because it does not allow an exemption to preserve a woman’s health. It does contain an exemption to preserve a woman’s life.

Justices Anthony Kennedy and Stephen Breyer asked the most questions during the two-hours of argument. Both asked about possible harm to women because of the lack of a health exemption.

Kennedy voted to uphold Nebraska’s late term abortion law in 2000, even though it did not contain a health exemption. The court ruled the law unconstitutional for that reason. Kennedy is thought to be a likely swing vote in the cases argued Wednesday.

Since that decision, the court’s frequent swing vote, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, has retired and two new conservative justices have joined the court.

Breyer asked technical questions about the procedure and the statute’s language.

Kennedy said, “It doesn’t make sense to say there is an alternative procedure if you can’t get access to it.”

Representing Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, Solicitor General Paul Clement argued the law would not affect a woman’s health or her right to choose an abortion.

Lawyers for Dr. Leroy Carhart and Planned Parenthood argued that banning “intact dilation and extraction” abortions will endanger women’s lives and limit their ability to choose.

In adopting the law, Congress heard from medical experts and issued findings that a ban would not harm women’s health.

Lawyer Eve Gartner, representing Planned Parenthood, said Congress’ findings were inaccurate. She said women need to make decisions about procedures with their doctors, not with the slow-moving courts.

She and Carhart’s lawyer listed health concerns not raised during congressional hearings, including death, kidney disease and liver disease.

Justice Clarence Thomas was not in court because he was ill, Chief Justice John Roberts said. Thomas is expected to vote in the case. A decision is expected by next summer.