Petitioner: Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania
Respondent: Robert P. Casey, Governor of Pennsylvania, and others
Petitioner's Claim: That restrictions on abortion in a Pennsylvania abortion law violated the Due Process Clause.
Chief Lawyer for Petitioner: Kathryn Kolbert
Chief Lawyer for Respondent: Ernest D. Preate, Jr., Attorney General of Pennsylvania
Justices for the Court: Harry A. Blackmun, Anthony M. Kennedy, Sandra Day O'Connor, David H. Souter, John Paul Stevens
Justices Dissenting: Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, Byron R. White
Date of Decision: June 29, 1992
Decision: While reaffirming the earlier Roe v. Wade decision, the Court also declared Pennsylvania's Abortion Control Act law largely constitutional with some exceptions.
Significance: The decision resolved a national dispute over abortion by upholding the essentials of Roe v. Wade while permitting Pennsylvania to regulate abortions so long as the state did not place an undue burden on women.
Through the 1980s the U.S. Supreme Court, took on a decidedly more conservative viewpoint toward the abortion issue than the 1970s court that had decided Roe v. Wade legalizing abortion. President Ronald Reagan had appointed justices Sandra Day O'Connor, Antonin Scalia, and Anthony Kennedy to the Court and promoted William Rehnquist to Chief Justice. The changed Court was willing to allow states more authority to regulate abortion. In 1988 Justice Harry A. Blackmun, the author of the Roe v. Wade decision, shocked a University of Arkansas audience by bluntly asking, "Will Roe v. Wade go down the drain?" He answered his own question with a prediction. "There's a very distinct possibility that it will. . . You can count votes [of the current justices]."
In 1989, anticipated by Blackmun's words, the Supreme Court in Webster v. Reproductive Health Services came within one vote of overturning Roe v. Wade. In Webster the Court upheld Missouri's right to prohibit using public facilities for abortions, and to require doctors to test for fetal viability (if the unborn child had a possibility of living outside the womb). More importantly four justices, Rehnquist, Kennedy, Scalia, and Byron R. White, voted to completely overturn Roe v. Wade. O'Connor was most likely to be the fifth and deciding vote to overturn Roe. Yet, she cast her vote to uphold Roe suggesting another case would likely come along to more appropriately test Roe. However, O'Connor did present a new idea or standard, called "undue burden." She found that Missouri's law was not an "undue burden" (did not create major obstacles) on the right to choose an abortion and was, therefore, constitutionally acceptable.
With this new "undue burden" standard left largely undefined and with Roe v. Wade having come close to being overturned, Webster served as an invitation to state legislators to test just how far the Supreme Court would let them go in regulating abortions. Between 1989 and 1992 more than 700 bills regulating abortion in various ways were introduced across the country. The bills included requirements involving parental consent, husband consent, clinic abortion...