The Pennsylvania Abortion Control Act (the “Act”) imposed several obligations on women seeking abortions and medical practitioners (for the details, see the issues section below). The Act exempted compliance with the obligations in the event of a medical emergency. The constitutionality of the Act was brought into question.
Can a state require women who want an abortion to obtain informed consent, wait 24 hours, if married, notify their husbands, and, if minors, obtain parental consent, without violating their right to abortion as guaranteed by Roe v. Wade?
In a bitter 5-to-4 decision, the Court again reaffirmed Roe, but it upheld most of the Pennsylvania provisions. For the first time, the justices imposed a new standard to determine the validity of laws restricting abortions. The new standard asks whether a state abortion regulation has the purpose or effect of imposing an undue burden,” which is defined as a “substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion before the fetus attains viability.” Under this standard, the only provision to fail the undue-burden test was the husband notification requirement. In a rare step, the opinion for the Court was crafted and authored by three justices: O’Connor, Kennedy, and Souter. Learn more about the Supreme Court and abortion law in Body Politic , a nonpartisan Oyez resource.”
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.
Kathryn Kolbert Argued the cause for the petitioners
Ernest D. Preate, Jr. Argued the cause for the respondents, Kenneth W. Starr Department of Justice, argued the cause for the United States as amicus curiae
Pennsylvania State Capitol
Robert P. Casey, Governor of Pennsylvania
Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania
505 US 833 (1992)
Apr 22, 1992
Jun 29, 1992