Brief Fact Summary. A Pennsylvania law imposed several obligations on women seeking abortions. The constitutionality of the law was brought into question.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. A law is invalid, if its purpose or effect is to place a substantial obstacle (i.e., an “undue burden”) in the path of a woman seeking an abortion at a stage of her pregnancy before the fetus attains viability.
Issue(s). Was the requirement of the Act that a woman give her informed consent prior to obtaining an abortion procedure constitutional under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution?
Was the requirement that a woman be provided with certain information at least 24 hours before an abortion procedure is performed constitutional under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution?
Was the requirement that a minor get a parent’s consent to have an abortion, but providing for a judicial bypass where necessary, constitutional under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution?
Was the requirement that a married woman sign a statement indicating that she has notified her husband of her intended abortion, unless an exception applies, constitutional under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution?
Was the requirement imposing certain reporting requirements on facilities that provide abortions constitutional under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution?
Held. Because neither the factual underpinnings of Roe v. Wade, nor the Supreme Court’s of the United States’ understanding of the law as it concerns Roe has changed since 1973, a woman’s right to an abortion as announced in Roe is upheld. Accordingly, a State’s interest in the life of the unborn has sufficient force so that a woman’s right to an abortion can be restricted. As to when in the stage of a pregnancy the right to an abortion can be restricted, the Supreme Court hereby rejects the trimester framework of Roe and announces the “undue burden” standard. Under this approach, all of the Act, except the parental consent requirement, the Court finds proper. The Supreme Court’s reasoning is as follows:
Because the informed consent requirement facilitates the wise exercise of a woman’s right to an abortion it cannot be said to impose an undue burden on the right Roe protects. The Court of Appeals, reversing the District Court on this issue, is affirmed.
The idea that important decisions will be more informed if they follow some period of reflection (24-hours) does not strike us as unreasonable. The Supreme Court disagrees with the District Court on this issue.
Because petitioners’ argument regarding parental consent is essentially a reprise of their argument against informed consent, we reject petitioners’ argument here as before and find parental consent proper.
Because there are very good reasons, e.g., fear of abuse, for a woman’s not wishing to inform her husband of her decision to obtain an abortion, the spousal notification requirement is an undue burden, and therefore invalid.
Because the record keeping and reporting requirements do relate to health, it cannot be said that they serve no purpose other than to make abortions more difficult. Therefore, we find such requirements proper.
Dissent. Justice Blackmun: Would hold that the 24-hour waiting period is clearly unconstitutional. The record keeping and reporting requirements are unconstitutional. A regulation designed to inform the public about public expenditures does not further the State’s interest in protection maternal health.
Justice Stevens: Provisions of the Act requiring a physician to provide materials to persuade a woman not to have an abortion are unconstitutional. The State may not inject such information into a woman’s deliberations just as she is weighing this important decision. Doing so amounts to an undue burden on a woman’s right to obtain an abortion before her fetus reaches the stage of viability.
Chief Justice Rehnquist: One cannot ignore the fact that a woman’s decision to abort necessarily involves a fetus. She is not isolated in her pregnancy. Moreover, historical traditions do not support the holding that the right to an abortion is “fundamental.” Therefore, it is improper to say that a law interfering with such a right must be able to withstand strict scrutiny. The question really before us is whether the provisions of the Act are rationally related to a legitimate governmental interest.
Justice Scalia: A woman’s right to have an abortion is not a liberty protected by the United States Constitution. This conclusion is reached because (1) the Constitution says nothing about it, and (2) the traditions of American history have allowed it to be legally proscribed. Justice Scalia would uphold the Pennsylvania statute on the basis of the rational basis test.
Concurrence. Justice Blackmun: Restrictions on abortion violate a woman’s right to privacy in two ways: (1) it infringes upon a woman’s right to bodily integrity, and (2) it deprives a woman of the right to make her own decisions about reproduction and family planning.
Justice Stevens: Provisions of the Act requiring a physician to inform a woman of the nature and risks of the abortion procedure and of carrying to term, are neutral requirements, like those imposed for other medical procedures, and therefore are constitutional.
Discussion. This case is really one about whether Roe v. Wade should be overturned. The Supreme Court here says no. The Supreme Court does decide to change the methodological structure Roe announced for evaluating whether particular laws burdening a woman’s right to an abortion amount to constitutional violations. Rejecting the trimester framework of Roe, the Supreme Court here announces the undue burden analysis, whereby a law is held unconstitutional it is poses an undue burden on a woman at a stage of her pregnancy before the fetus has become viable. Justice O’Connor, for the majority, writes that the trimester framework was never intended to be the essence of the holding in Roe. The essence of Roe, writes Justice O’Connor, was that a woman’s right to have an abortion is fundamental.