Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey

Following is the case brief for Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833 (1992).

Case Summary of Planned Parenthood v. Casey:

  • Several of Pennsylvania’s statutory abortion provisions were challenged in federal court.  Those provisions included requirements of informed consent, a 24-hour waiting period, parental consent for minors seeking abortions, and spousal notification.
  • In reviewing the provisions, the U.S. Supreme Court reaffirmed the essential holding of Roe v. Wade, that the government cannot unduly infringe on a woman’s decision to have an abortion prior to fetal viability.  The Court, however, provided a new analysis for abortion restrictions — the “undue burden” standard.
  • The Court found each of the Pennsylvania provisions constitutional (i.e., not placing an undue burden on the right to choose), except for the spousal notification provision.

Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey Case Brief

Statement of the Facts:

The State of Pennsylvania passed the Pennsylvania Abortion Control Act of 1982.  At issue in the case were five provisions of the Act as follows:

  • Informed Consent:  A woman wanting an abortion had to give informed consent and receive certain health information 24-hours prior to the procedure.
  • Parental Consent:  A minor wanting an abortion must obtain the informed consent of one parent.  This provision allowed for a judicial bypass procedure.
  • Spousal Notice:  A married woman must verify that she notified her husband that she was obtaining an abortion.
  • “Medical Emergency” Exception:  The Act provided a definition of circumstances under which the an abortion may be performed without following the three provisions above.
  • Other Reporting Requirements:  The Act required certain reporting requirements of facilities that performed abortions.

Five abortion clinics and a physician acting on behalf of himself and a class of doctors filed an action in Federal District Court.  They sought a judgment declaring that the Act’s provisions were unconstitutional.

Procedural History:

The District Court held that all of the Act’s provisions at issue were unconstitutional and enjoined their enforcement.  The Third Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed in part and reversed in part, finding all of the provisions constitutional, except the spousal notification provision.  The U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari.

Issue and Holding:

  1. Can a State require that a woman give informed consent and receive information 24-hours before getting an abortion?  Yes.
  2. Can a State require that a minor obtain parental consent before getting an abortion?  Yes.
  3. Can a State require a married woman to notify her husband before getting an abortion?  No.
  4. Can a State allow for abortions in “medical emergencies?”  Yes.
  5. Can a State impose reporting requirements on abortion facilities?  Yes.


The Supreme Court essentially affirmed the result of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, but for slightly different reasons.

Rule of Law or Legal Principle Applied:

A provision of law is invalid if it places an undue burden (i.e., places a substantial obstacle) on a woman’s right to have an abortion prior to fetal viability.


  • The Essential Holding of Roe Remains Unchanged

The Court’s opinion (authored by three Justices – O’Connor, Kennedy, and Souter) began the analysis by stating that the three fundamental parts of the Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973), holding remain unchanged.  Those three parts were:

  1.  A woman has the right to choose an abortion prior to fetal viability without undue interference from the government;
  2.  The government has the power to limit abortions after viability, as long as there are exceptions for the health of the mother; and
  3.  The government has a legitimate interest from the beginning of a pregnancy for the health of the mother and the life of the fetus.

In an effort to provide clarity to the controversial issue of abortion, the Court noted that a woman’s decision to terminate her pregnancy is a liberty protected by the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause.  Also, stare decisis compels the Court to reaffirm Roe because there has been no factual change, or evolution in society’s thinking, since the Roe decision.

  • The “Undue Burden” Standard

Roe’s trimester framework — where viability was deemed to be at the beginning of the third trimester — is no longer workable, and thus rejected.  The standard by which laws involving abortion should be judged is the “undue burden” standard.  Under that standard, a provision of law is an undue burden, and thus invalid, if it places substantial obstacles in the path of a woman seeking an abortion before fetal viability.

  • Decision on the Act’s Five Provisions

After addressing the continued vitality of Roe, the Court held that each of the provisions of the Act, except spousal notification, were valid because they did not place an undue burden on a woman’s right to choose.  With regard to spousal notification, the Court determined that the threat of violence some women might face by notifying their spouse placed an undue burden on the right to choose.

Concurring/Dissenting Opinion (Stevens):  The Court is correct to say that stare decisis applies in this case and is correct in reaffirming the principles of Roe.  However, the informed consent and 24-hr waiting period provisions of the Act are unconstitutional, as they are an undue burden on a woman’s right to choose.

Concurring/Dissenting Opinion (Blackmun):   The Court should have found all provisions of the Act unconstitutional, and future State restrictions on abortion should be held to the strictest judicial scrutiny.  Also, the trimester framework of Roe should have been kept intact because it is less malleable than the undue burden standard.

Concurring/Dissenting Opinion (Rehnquist):  The Court was correct to uphold four of the five provisions, but it also should have upheld the spousal notification provision.  Chief Justice Rehnquist challenged the right to an abortion, the right of privacy, Roe’s use of strict scrutiny, and the new undue burden standard.

Concurring/Dissenting Opinion (Scalia):  Abortion is not a protected liberty.  Accordingly, abortion can be legally restricted.  All of the provisions in the Act should be upheld, and the Court should get out of the abortion debate so democratic legislatures can decide the issue.


Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey has immense historical significance because it was, in essence, about whether Roe v. Wade should be overturned.  Ultimately, the Court did not overturn Roe.  While the case established the “undue burden” standard over Roe’s trimester framework, it clearly stands for the fact that the essential holding of Roe — that a woman has the right to choose an abortion before fetal viability — remains intact.

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