Casey v. Planned Parenthood: Summary & Significance

Instructor: Michelle Blessing

Michelle is a former therapist and adult education/college instructor. She holds a Master's degree in Psychology and a Bachelor's degree in Sociology.

Casev v. Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania was a significant case in terms of abortion laws. It was the first case since ''Roe v. Wade'' to attempt to change restrictions on abortions. Did they succeed? Read on to find out.

How Casey Tried to Change Abortion Laws

Abortion is the deliberate termination of a pregnancy, via surgical or medical means. There are many laws regarding abortion, the most famous being the Roe v. Wade case in 1973. Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey was a significant case in terms of abortion laws. It was the first case since the Roe v. Wade case to attempt to change abortion laws, and it was settled in 1992.

The basis of the case revolved around the issue of consent in abortions. For example, can a state require a woman to wait 24 hours and obtain counseling before making a final decision? The Casey v. Planned Parenthood case grappled with changing laws with the intent of helping women make a better informed decision about the procedure. Many of the Pennsylvania restrictions on abortion law were considered unconstitutional, and the case saw itself all the way to the Supreme Court. The decision was made to maintain Roe v. Wade, but many of the provisions in the Pennsylvania law were upheld, in a close, 5-4 battle in the U.S. Court of Appeals.

Casey v. Planned Parenthood went all way to the Supreme Court.
Supreme Court

Facts of the Case: Who?

The Casey v. Planned Parenthood case involved some significant figures in not only Pennsylvania, but the Supreme Court as well. Two members of the Supreme court were Bush-appointed, conservative Justices, David Souter and Clarence Thomas. Souter supported the ideas of Casey v. Planned Parenthood, while Thomas opposed them. The other Supreme Court Justices who rallied with Souter in support of the Pennsylvania law were Harry Blackmun, John Paul Stevens, Sandra Day O'Connor, and Anthony Kennedy. Those opposed to the Pennsylvania restrictions (along with Thomas) were William Rehnquist, Byron White, and Antonin Scalia.

Kathyrn Kolbert, a representative of Planned Parenthood, Linda Wharton, and Ernie Preate, Pennsylvanian General Attorney, argued the case for the state. The plaintiffs, who were comprised of several abortion clinics and abortion-providing doctors, argued that the Pennsylvania restrictions on abortion were unconstitutional and violated a woman's rights.

Facts of the Case: What?

Five specific points were being argued in the Casey v. Planned Parenthood case. They include:

  • Informed Consent: A woman must provide informed consent prior to an abortion procedure. The physician performing the procedure needed to inform the woman of the specifics of the abortion procedure, including how it is performed, risk factors and complications, and information about the fetus the woman was going to abort.
  • Spousal Notice: A woman, if married, must have a signed statement that her husband knows and agrees to the abortion procedure. Certain exemptions do apply to that particular point.
  • Parental Consent: A minor (female under the age of 18) requires the consent of a parent or guardian prior to an abortion procedure being performed. Certain exemptions, requiring the minor to receive a judicial pass, do apply to this point as well.
  • Medical Emergency: A woman can seek an abortion due to a medical emergency, which is defined as a condition, which, on the basis of the physician's good faith clinical judgment, so complicates the medical condition of a pregnant woman as to necessitate the immediate abortion of her pregnancy to avert her death or for which a delay will create serious risk of substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function.
  • Reporting Requirements: This point refers to record keeping and reporting mandates for clinics providing abortion services.

All of the Supreme Court Justices agreed that spousal consent was debatable, as it may place women in harm, particularly if she were involved in an abusive relationship. However, four (Rehnquist, Scalia, White, and Thomas) agreed that informed and parental consent, along with the 24-hour waiting period, were acceptable provisions under the law. Supreme Court Justices Blackmun and Stevens, however, disagreed with the three provisions of informed/parental consent and waiting periods, arguing these violated a woman's constitutional rights.

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