RESPONDENT: John C. Danforth, Attorney General of New Jersey; and J. Brendan Ryan, Circuit Attorney of the City of St. Louis, Missouri
LOCATION: Missouri State Capitol
DOCKET NO.: 74-1151
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)
CITATION: 428 US 52 (1976)
ARGUED: Mar 23, 1976
DECIDED: Jul 01, 1976
Frank Susman -
John C. Danforth -
Facts of the case
About a year after the Supreme Court decided Roe v. Wade, the State of Missouri passed a law regulating abortions in the state. Planned Parenthood of Missouri and two doctors who supervised abortions at Planned Parenthood sued to prevent enforcement of certain parts of the law. The challenged parts of the law: (1) define “viability” as the “stage of fetal development when the life of the unborn child may be continued indefinitely outside the womb by natural or artificial life support systems”; (2) require a women submitting to an abortion during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy to sign a consent form certifying that she was not coerced; (3) require written consent from the woman’s spouse during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, unless the abortion will save the mother’s life; (4)require parental consent if the woman is younger than 18; (5) require physicians to exercise professional care in preserving a fetus life or risk being charged with manslaughter; (6) declare an infant who survives an abortion attempt as a ward of the state, depriving mother and father of parental rights; (7) prohibit saline amniocenteses after the first 12 weeks of pregnancy; and (8) require reporting and record keeping for facilities and physicians that perform abortions.
The district court upheld all of the provisions except 4, holding that it was overbroad because it did not exclude the stage of pregnancy before the fetus is viable. The Supreme Court head this case on direct appeal.
Are the challenged provisions of the Missouri law regulating abortion unconstitutional?
Media for Planned Parenthood of Central Missouri v. DanforthAudio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 23, 1976 in Planned Parenthood of Central Missouri v. Danforth
Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - July 01, 1976 in Planned Parenthood of Central Missouri v. Danforth
Warren E. Burger:
The judgments and opinions in three related cases will be announced by Mr. Justice Blackmun.
Harry A. Blackmun:
Well, these cases are the anticipated corollaries to the so-called abortion cases of Roe against Wade and Doe v. Bolton, decided in 1973.
The case has raised a number of secondary issues that are important.
The first one is 74-1151 and 74-1419. Planned Parenthood of Central Missouri against Danforth in a reverse title.
In these cases, there are two physicians who were licensed in Missouri and Planned Parenthood, a not-for-profit corporation, brought a suit for injunctive and declaratory relief challenging the constitutionality of the new Missouri abortion statute enacted after the decisions in Roe and in Doe.
A number of the provisions of the Missouri statute are under attack but not all of them, and the ones challenged specifically are a provision, Section 2 (2), defining viability.
And another provision, Section 3 (2), requiring that prior to submitting to an abortion during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, a woman must consent in writing to that procedure and must also certify that her consent is informed and freely given and is not the result of coercion.
Still another provision, Section 3 (3), requiring the written consent of the spouse of the woman seeking an abortion unless a licensed physician certifies that the procedure is necessary to preserve the mother's life.
Another provision Section 3 (4), requiring the written consent of a parent or person in loco parentis of an unmarried woman under 18; and still another provision Section 6 (1), requiring the physician to exercise professional care to preserve the life and health of the fetus, and failing which he is deemed guilty of manslaughter and subject to an action for damages.
Another provision Section 7, declaring an infant who survives an attempted abortion to be an abandoned ward of the State, and depriving the mother and a consenting father of parental rights.
Section 9, prohibiting after the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, the abortion procedure known as saline amniocentesis and finally two provisions, Sections 10 and 11, that prescribe reporting and record-keeping requirements for facilities and physicians performing abortions.
The case came before a three-judge court in the Eastern District of Missouri in St. Louis and that Court ruled that the two physicians had standing to maintain the suit and thus it was unnecessary in their view to determine whether the corporation Planned Parenthood had standing.
On the merits, the court upheld all of the challenged provisions of the Missouri statute except the one dealing with the exercise of professional care to preserve the life and health of the fetus.
The court was unanimous with respect to the section defining viability, as to the woman's consent and as to the record-keeping provisions and they were unanimous in striking down the section 6 (1) that I refered to regarding the exercise of professional care to protect and preserve the life and health of the fetus.
On the other sections, I divided two to one.
And both sides have taken appeals here.
We hold today in an opinion filed with the court as follows.
First that the physicians appellants do have standing to challenge of the Act, except with respect to Section 7 that declared a surviving infant to be an abandoned ward of the state.
We hold that as to that they do not have standing and as a consequence, we do not pass on the constitutionality of that particular section of the Missouri Act and further we decline to consider here them the standing of Planned Parenthood to attack the section for, we feel at that question appropriately maybe left to the District Court for reconsideration on remand.
Second, as to the definition of viability in the Missouri Act, we hold and we do so unanimously, that the Act does not conflict with the definition in Roe against Wade.
We conclude that the Missouri definition maintains the flexibility of the term viability that was recognized in Roe in 1973.
Next, we hold that the provision that the woman must consent in writing to the abortion procedure and certify that her consent is informed and freely given and is not the result of coercion, is not unconstitutional and our holding there is unanimous.
The decision to abort is an important and often stressful one.
And we conclude that the awareness of the decision and its significance constitutionally maybe assured by the state to the extent of requiring the prior written consent as the statute prescribes.
Next so far as the spousal consent provision is concerned, the court today holds that it does not comport with the standards enunciated in Roe against Wade, and we hold it unconstitutional, since the State cannot delegate to a spouse, a veto power which the state itself is prohibited from exercising during the first trimester of pregnancy.
The court is divided as to this one, Mr. Justice White joined by the Chief Justice and Mr. Justice Rehnquist are in dissent.
Passing on to the parental requirement, we hold that the State may not constitutionally impose a blanket parental consent requirement, such as the Missouri statute contains as a condition for an unmarried minor's abortion during the first 12 weeks.
Here again, the court is divided and in dissent are Mr. Justice White joined by the Chief Justice and Mr. Justice Rehnquist and Mr. Justice Stevens also dissents so on this provision.
Passing on to the proscription by the Missouri legislature of the use of saline amniocentesis after the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, we hold that this is arbitrary and is failing as a reasonable protection of maternal health.
We feel that this would force pregnancy terminations by methods more dangerous to the woman than the method proscribed.