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Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey

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Significance: Although the Supreme Court reaffirmed a woman's constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy before the fetus attains viability, it rejected the trimester framework and allowed states to enact abortion restrictions that did not place an “undue burden” on the woman's right.


In the landmark case Roe v. Wade (1973), the Supreme Court ruled that a woman has a constitutional right to privacy that includes a right to abortions. By the early 1990's, because of several appointments by Presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush, the Court increasingly approved of regulations that made it more difficult for women to obtain abortion services. The suit against Pennsylvania governor Robert Casey challenged a statute that required spousal notification, the consent of one parent in the case of an unmarried minor, a twenty-four-hour waiting period before abortion procedures, and the obligation of providers to give patients information about adoptions and the health risks of abortions. In previous cases, the Supreme Court had struck down similar restrictions. Before the Casey decision was announced, many observers expected that a conservative majority might overturn the Roe precedent. In Casey, the Court was extremely fragmented. Five justices voted to reaffirm a woman's right to an abortion during the early stages of pregnancy. Three of the five, however, emphasized stare decisis (precedent) rather than constitutional principle. Five justices voted to invalidate the spousal notification requirement, and seven justices voted to uphold the other statutory regulations. In addition, a joint opinion of the controlling plurality accepted two ideas that Justice Sandra Day O’Connor had advocated for several years: the rejection of Roe's trimester framework as unworkable and the recognition of an undue burden standard for evaluating whether regulations were acceptable. The opinion spoke of a woman's “liberty” rather than her “privacy.” Two members of the Court wanted to strike down all the Pennsylvania restrictions. Four of the justices entirely rejected the idea that the Constitution protects a right to abortions. The compromises in Casey's controlling opinion did not please either pro-choice or pro-life organizations.