Legislation / Court Cases

Abortion And The U.S. Supreme Court – Decisions

1973 Roe v. Wade — (7-2) Court overturns a Texas law prohibiting abortions except to save the mother’s life, and rules that the constitutional right to privacy protects a woman’s decision to have an abortion. Court establishes trimester system, permitting states to regulate abortion after the first trimester and, after the point of “viability” to prohibit abortions except when necessary for the mother’s life or “health”, defined so broadly (i.e. social well-being) as to make it virtually impossible for a state to protect the unborn child at any time during the nine months.

Doe v. Bolton (410 U.S. 179 stated “…the medical judgment may be exercised in the light of all factors — physical, emotional, psychological, familial, and the woman’s age — relevant to the well-being of the patient. All these factors may relate to health…410 U.S. 192) Both decisions were 7-2 votes. Justice Blackmun wrote the majority opinion with Justices White and Rehnquist dissenting.

1976 Planned Parenthood of Central MO v. Danforth — Court holds that a Missouri abortion law requiring the consent of parents and husband is unconstitutional. States may not prohibit the use of a particular type of abortion method nor require doctors to take as much care to save the life of an aborted baby as if the baby were born prematurely. This decision was decided by votes of 6-3 and 5-4 with Blackmun writing the opinion, and dissent by Chief Justice Burger, Justices White and Rehnquist, and Justice Stevens in part.

1977 Maher v. Doe, Beal v. Doe — Court upholds a CT law that limits state Medicaid funding to medically necessary abortions and does not pay for “elective” abortions. Decided by a 6-3 vote with Powell writing the opinion and Brennan, Marshall and Blackmun dissenting.

Poeiker v. Doe — A city may choose to provide publicly-financed hospital services for childbirth, but may choose to bar abortions in its public hospitals. Decided by a 6-3 vote with Brennan, Marshall and Blackmun dissenting.

1979 Bellotti v. Baird, Hunerwald v. Baird — Overturning a MA parental consent law, court rules that minors who want abortions must be allowed to seek court permission without first consulting their parents. Judges must permit “mature” minors to have abortions and allow abortions for immature minors if it would be in their best interest. Five justices stated they would accept some form of parental notification. Decided by 8-1 vote with White dissenting.

Colautti v. Franklin — A state may not require doctors doing abortions to protect the life of the fetus whenever they have reason to believe it might survive the abortion. Decided by 6-3 vote with Blackmun writing the opinion and Burger, White and Rehnquist dissenting.

1980 Harris v. McRae — Court upholds constitutionality of the Hyde Amendment, which bans the use of federal Medicaid funds for abortion except when necessary to save the mother’s life. States are under no obligation to pay for such abortions if federal funds for reimbursement are withdrawn. Decided by a 5-4 vote with Stewart writing the decision and Brennan, Blackmun, Marshall and Stevens dissenting.

1981 H.L. v. Matheson — The Court upheld a Utah statute requiring that the parents of a minor be informed by a physician, “if possible” before he performs an abortion upon her. Decided by a 6-3 vote with Chief Justice Burger writing the decision and Marshall, Brennan and Blackmun dissenting.

1983 City of Akron v. Akron Center for Reproductive Health — Court – strongly reaffirming Roe – invalidates an Akron, OH, ordinance requiring, among other things, that women wait 24 hours between agreeing to and having an abortion, that all abortions after the first trimester be performed in hospitals and that women be informed that “the unborn child is a human life from the moment of conception.”

1983 Planned Parenthood of Kansas City, MO v. Ashcroft — Court upholds MO law requiring that two doctors be present at late stage abortions, that a pathology report be obtained for every abortion and that minors seeking abortions obtain parental consent or judicial authorization.

1986 Thornburgh v. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Pennsylvania Section — Court rejects Reagan administration request to overturn Roe and strikes down “informed consent” provision of PA law because it was designed to dissuade women from having abortions.

[The Washington Post, 10 January 1989]