Over the past decade, parental-notification rules, mandatory waiting periods and other state restrictions have steadily chipped away at a woman's right to abortion. With Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's retirement, it would probably take only the departure of one of the court's four remaining moderate-to-liberal members--most likely John Paul Stevens, 85, or Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 72--to overturn Roe v. Wade, which established abortion rights nationwide, or the court's more recent precedent, 1992's Planned Parenthood v. Casey. The more pressing matter of late-term-abortion bans is sure to come before the court soon. In 2000 the court ruled 5-4 that a Nebraska ban was unconstitutional because it didn't include an exception for women whose health was endangered by pregnancy; O'Connor cast the decisive vote. On the same grounds, the federal ban has been ruled unconstitutional by three district courts, and it could find its way to the Supreme Court in the coming years. Next term the court is scheduled to hear a case involving a New Hampshire parental-notification law that was struck down because its exception for health problems was limited to cases of life-threatening pregnancies.
CHURCH AND STATE
The mixed message sent by two recent 5-4 decisions on the public display of the Ten Commandments effectively ensures that the court will continue to grapple with the separation of church and state in the years ahead. By taking context and history into account, the court ruled that one display, 44 years old and situated outside the Texas state capitol among dozens of other sculptures and markers, passed constitutional muster, while the others, set up much more recently in two Kentucky courthouses, did not. Other issues that the court may soon address include government aid to religious schools, faith-based initiatives and attempts by religious conservatives to introduce creationist theories to public-school curriculums. A case in the lower courts concerns whether the state of Iowa can fund a religious-fellowship program in Iowa prisons. One case next term revolves around whether the federal government can prohibit a small Brazilian-American religious sect from importing a hallucinogenic tea--officially classified as a controlled substance--that it uses in rituals. The current court has rejected school-prayer schemes that are not purely voluntary, and it has put restrictions on school vouchers. But if another moderate leaves the court, that could change.