This case was a descendant of the Roe v. Wade line of decisions, but it replaced the trimester framework with a focus on viability in determining when the state’s interests could outweigh the interests of a pregnant woman. The addition of the undue burden standard tilted the balance in the state’s favor when making these determinations, however. Since the Court was so deeply divided, the door remained open to future challenges to Roe.
Facts of the case:
The Pennsylvania legislature amended its abortion control law in 1988 and 1989. Among the new provisions, the law required informed consent and a 24 hour waiting period prior to the procedure. A minor seeking an abortion required the consent of one parent (the law allows for a judicial bypass procedure). A married woman seeking an abortion had to indicate that she notified her husband of her intention to abort the fetus. These provisions were challenged by several abortion clinics and physicians. A federal appeals court upheld all the provisions except for the husband notification requirement.
Brief Fact Summary:
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.
The Court reaffirms Roe v. Wade’s essential holding, which has 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 the 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. These principles do not contradict one another.