Brief Fact Summary. Abortion clinics impose informed consent and notice requirements on women seeking to have an abortion.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. Laws placing significant obstacles on a woman’s right to an abortion are unconstitutional.
Issue. Whether placing significant restrictions, such as consent and notification requirements, on a woman seeking to have an abortion is a violation of the woman’s constitutional rights.
Held. Justices Sandra Day O’Connor (J. O’Connor), Anthony Kennedy (J. Kennedy) and David Souter (J. Souter). Yes. “A finding of an undue burden is a shorthand for conclusion that a state regulation has the purpose or effect of placing a substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion of a nonviable fetus. A statute with this purpose is invalid because the means chosen by the State to further the interest in potential life must be calculated to inform the woman’s free choice, not hinder it.” The judgment is affirmed.
Dissent. The dissenting opinions are as follows:
Justice John Paul Stevens (J. Stevens). “Contrary to . . . the joint opinion, it is not a ‘contradiction’ to recognize that the State may have a legitimate interest in potential human life and, at the same time, to conclude that that interest does not justify the regulation of abortion before viability (although other interests, such as maternal health, may). [T]hat the State’s interest is legitimate does not tell us when if ever, that interest outweighs the pregnant woman’s interest in personal liberty . . . .”
Chief Justice William Rehnquist (J. Rehnquist). Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113, 93. S.Ct. 705, 35 L.Ed.2d 147 (1973), was wrongly decided, and . . . it can and should be overruled consistently with our traditional approach to stare decisis in constitutional cases. We adopt the approach in Webster . . . and uphold the challenged provisions of the Pennsylvania statute in their entirety.”
Justice Antonin Scalia (J. Scalia). The United States Constitution (Constitution) does not provide a woman a right to have an abortion. The Constitution makes no mention of this right and the Supreme Court of the United States (Supreme Court) uses no historical precedent to support its finding that a woman has a constitutional right to an abortion.
Concurrence. The concurring opinions are as follows:
Justice John Paul Stevens (J. Stevens). “[A]s a matter of federal constitutional law, a developing organism that is not yet a ‘person’ does not have what is sometimes described as a ‘right to live.’ This has been and, by the Court’s holding today, remains a fundamental premise of our constitutional law governing reproductive autonomy.”
Justice Harry Blackmun (J. Blackmun). None of the Pennsylvania regulations would pass strict scrutiny.
Discussion. This case reaffirms the holding of Roe v. Wade as being three parts. “First is a recognition of the right of the woman to choose to have an abortion before viability and to obtain it without undue interference from the State. Before viability, the State’s interests are not strong enough to support a prohibition of abortion or the imposition of a substantial obstacle to the woman’s effective right to elect the procedure. Second is a confirmation of the State’s power to restrict abortions after fetal viability, if the law contains exceptions for pregnancies which endanger a woman’s life or health. And third is the principle that the State has legitimate interests from the outset of the pregnancy in protecting the health of the woman and the life of the fetus that may become a child.”