Citation. 410 U.S. 113, 93 S. Ct. 705, 35 L. Ed. 2d 147, 1973 U.S.
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Brief Fact Summary.
A Texas statute made procuring an abortion a crime. The constitutionality of the statute was brought into question.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
The decision of a woman to have an abortion is a fundamental right guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment. As such, the State may not interfere with this right absent a compelling governmental interest and narrow tailoring of the law to the compelling governmental interest.
A Texas statute made procuring an abortion a crime except for the purpose of saving the mother. The asserted purposes for the law were to protect pregnant woman from a hazardous procedure and to protect prenatal life. The constitutionality of the statute was brought into question.
Was the Texas statute proscribing, altogether, a woman’s right to have an abortion constitutional?
The right of a woman to determine whether or not to terminate her pregnancy is a fundamental right of privacy founded in the Fourteenth Amendment’s concept of personal liberty. The detriment the State would impose upon a woman by denying her this choice is clear: direct medical harm, psychological injury, stigma, etc. As such, any effort by the State to absolutely regulate a woman’s right to an abortion must be able to withstand the strict scrutiny standard of review, which this statute cannot.
In addition, a fetus is not a person within the meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment, and therefore, is not entitled to the protections of that Amendment. Moreover, the Supreme Court of the United States does not accept the Appellee’s, the State, argument that life (for a person) begins at conception, nor is it willing to speculate, amid all of the medical uncertainty, when life begins. Answer: The State. I just inserted this information in the body of this subsection.
It is reasonable, however, for a State to conclude at some stage of a pregnancy that the interest in a potential human life is compelling: (1) for the first trimester, the abortion decision must be left to the judgment of the woman’s physician; (2) during the second trimester the State may choose to regulate abortions in ways that are reasonably related to maternal health; (3) during the third trimester, a State may regulate or proscribe abortions, except where necessary to preserve the life or health of the mother. Because the Texas statute would permit the State to prohibit a woman to have an abortion during all three stages of a woman’s pregnancy, without advancing a compelling government interest and providing narrow tailoring in so doing, the statute sweeps too broadly and is therefore unconstitutional.
Justice White: The Supreme Court simply fashions and announces a new constitutional right in this case. Nothing in the language or history of the United States Constitution supports the Supreme Court’s judgment.
Justice Rehnquist: The right of privacy is not involved in this case. A transaction resulting in an operation is not “private” in the ordinary usage of the word. Moreover, the fact that a majority of the states have had restrictions on abortions for at least a century is a strong indication that the right to an abortion is not so deeply rooted in the traditions and conscience of our people to be regarded fundamental.
Concurrence. Justice Stewart: Though the asserted state interests are legitimate ones, they cannot constitutionally support the broad abridgment of personal liberty the Texas statute entails.
Justice Douglas: While childbirth can endanger the lives in health of some women, abortions at any time would impinge on a rightful concern of society in the welfare of potential life. These concerns justify the State in treating abortions as medical procedures.
This case ends the states’ right to absolutely regulate a woman’s right to an abortion. It does so by announcing that a woman’s right to an abortion is fundamental. The Supreme Court explains that only personal rights that can be deemed “fundamental” or “implicit” in the concept of ordered liberty are included in the guarantee of personal privacy. The Supreme Court seems to reach the conclusion quickly that there are two competing fundamental interests implicated in this case: (1) a woman’s interest in her right of privacy concerning a decision whether to have an abortion; and (2) a State’s interest in preserving the life of a potential human being. The overwhelming majority of the opinion in the case, in the Stone case book, is devoted to the issue of when (i.e., at what stage of a pregnancy) and to what extent should one of the fundamental interests give way to the other.