Abortion & Reproductive Rights Supreme Court Cases
Although the Constitution does not provide an explicit right to privacy, the Supreme Court has found that this arises from other constitutional protections. In the 1970s, the Court ruled that the right to privacy mandated freedom of choice to terminate a pregnancy. For half a century after its decision in Roe v. Wade, freedom of choice was enshrined in constitutional principles.
In Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the Supreme Court developed the “undue burden” standard for reviewing abortion restrictions. It provided that a state could not place substantial obstacles in the path of a woman seeking an abortion before a fetus reaches viability. This is when a child can survive outside the womb, which often occurs at about 24 weeks of pregnancy.
However, the Supreme Court abruptly cast aside Roe, Casey, and the constitutional right to freedom of choice in 2022. Its decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization allowed states to regulate (or even ban) abortion at will. Many states responded to Dobbs by imposing harsh restrictions. The war over reproductive rights has shifted to state courts and legislatures for the foreseeable future.
A state law forbidding the use of contraceptives violates the right of marital privacy, which is within the penumbra of specific guarantees of the Bill of Rights.
Eisenstadt v. Baird (1972)
If the distribution of contraceptives to married persons cannot be prohibited, a ban on distribution to unmarried persons would be equally impermissible, since the constitutionally protected right of privacy inheres in the individual, rather than the marital couple.
Roe v. Wade (1973)
The Due Process Clause protects against state action the right to privacy, including a woman’s qualified right to terminate her pregnancy. Although the state cannot override that right, it has legitimate interests in protecting both the pregnant woman’s health and the potentiality of human life, each of which interests grows and reaches a compelling point at various stages of the woman’s approach to term.
Doe v. Bolton (1973)
The requirement that a physician’s decision to perform an abortion must rest upon “his best clinical judgment” of its necessity is not unconstitutionally vague.
Planned Parenthood v. Danforth (1976)
A state may not constitutionally require the consent of the spouse as a condition for abortion during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. (A state cannot delegate to a spouse a veto power that the state is absolutely and totally prohibited from exercising during the first trimester of pregnancy.)
Maher v. Roe (1977)
The Equal Protection Clause does not require a state participating in the Medicaid program to pay the expenses incident to non-therapeutic abortions for indigent women simply because it has made a policy choice to pay expenses incident to childbirth.
Harris v. McRae (1980)
A woman’s freedom of choice does not carry with it a constitutional entitlement to the financial resources to avail herself of the full range of protected choices. Although the government may not place obstacles in the path of a woman’s exercise of her freedom of choice, it need not remove those not of its own creation, and indigency falls within the latter category.
Webster v. Reproductive Health Services (1989)
Restrictions on the use of public employees and facilities for the performance or assistance of non-therapeutic abortions did not contravene the Court’s abortion decisions. The Due Process Clauses generally confer no affirmative right to governmental aid, even when such aid may be necessary to secure life, liberty, or property interests of which the government may not deprive the individual.
Hodgson v. Minnesota (1990)
A requirement of notice to both parents of a pregnant minor before an abortion was unconstitutional because it was not reasonably related to legitimate state interests.
Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey (1992)
An undue burden exists, and therefore a provision of law is invalid, if its purpose or effect is to place substantial obstacles in the path of a woman seeking an abortion before the fetus attains viability.
Stenberg v. Carhart (2000)
A state law criminalizing the performance of partial birth abortion was unconstitutional, based on Roe and Casey.
Gonzales v. Carhart (2007)
When it has a rational basis to act, and it does not impose an undue burden, the state may use its regulatory power to bar certain procedures and substitute others, all in furtherance of its legitimate interests in regulating the medical profession in order to promote respect for life, including life of the unborn. (This decision upheld a federal ban on partial birth abortion, which was seen as more specific and precise than the state law struck down in Stenberg.)
Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt (2016)
Two restrictions imposed by a Texas abortion law placed a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking a pre-viability abortion, constituted an undue burden on abortion access, and thus violated the Constitution.
Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization (2022)
The Constitution does not confer a right to abortion. Roe and Casey are overruled, and the authority to regulate abortion is returned to the people and their elected representatives.