Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pa. v. Casey



A person retains the right to have an abortion, established by Roe v. Wade, but the state’s compelling interest in protecting the life of an unborn child means that it can ban an abortion of a viable fetus under any circumstances except when the health of the mother is at risk. Also, laws restricting abortion should be evaluated under an undue burden standard rather than a strict scrutiny analysis.


The Pennsylvania Abortion Control Act of 1982 contained five controversial provisions: 1) doctors were required to inform women considering abortion about its potential negative impacts on their health; 2) women were required to give notice to husbands before obtaining an abortion; 3) children were required to get consent from a parent or guardian; 4) a 24-hour waiting period was required between deciding to have an abortion and undergoing the procedure; and 5) reporting requirements were imposed on facilities offering abortions.

An independent physician, a group of physicians providing abortion services, and five abortion clinics in Pennsylvania filed a lawsuit in federal district court seeking to enjoin enforcement of these provisions of the law on the grounds that they were facially unconstitutional. The district court agreed and issued the injunction, but the Third Circuit upheld all of the provisions except the second provision requiring women to give notice to their husbands. (Current Supreme Court Justice Samuel A. Alito was on the Third Circuit at the time and felt that all of the provisions should have been upheld.)

This challenge to the right of abortion provided by Roe v. Wade and based on the Fourteenth Amendment was viewed as an opportunity for a more conservative Court to overturn Roe. New Justices David Souter and Clarence Thomas had been appointed by Republican President George H.W. Bush and thus were considered to be less liberal than recently retired Democratic appointees William Brennan and Thurgood Marshall. With eight Republican appointees and only two Justices who previously had shown support for Roe, the odds were stacked against pro-choice advocates at the outset.