Planned Parenthood v. Ashcroft, 462 U.S. 476 (1983)

Following the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade (410 U.S. 113, 1973) recognizing a woman’s right under the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to terminate her pregnancy, several states, including Missouri, enacted legislation aimed at discouraging women from choosing abortion over childbirth. Some of the barriers placed by Missouri included a requirement that second-trimester abortions be performed in hospitals, that tissue removed during the abortion be examined by a pathologist, that a second physician be present during third-trimester pregnancies, and that minors secure parental or judicial consent. These rules imposed additional costs for and delay in the performance of abortions. In Planned Parenthood v. Ashcroft, the Supreme Court struck down the hospital requirement but sustained the other restrictions.

Planned Parenthood Association of Kansas City, Missouri, two physicians who performed abortions, and an abortion clinic filed a suit in federal district court challenging several sections of the Missouri abortion statutes as unconstitutional. The trial court invalidated all the sections except the pathology requirement. The U.S. Court of Appeals upheld the requirement that a minor secure parental or judicial consent to an abortion.

In Akron v. Akron Center of Reproductive Health, 462 U.S. 416 (1983), decided the same day as Planned Parenthood v. Ashcroft, the Court invalidated a city ordinance requiring physicians to perform all secondtrimester abortions in a hospital. Such a restriction, said the Court, unreasonably infringes upon a woman’s constitutional right to obtain an abortion. Abortion clinics are a safe, reasonable, and much less costly alternative. The Court found the Missouri hospital requirement unconstitutional for the same reason.

The Court found that the requirement that a second physician be in attendance when a doctor is performing a late-term abortion furthers the state’s compelling interest in protecting potential human life. The Court acknowledged that a small percentage of abortions performed after the fetus has reached the point of viability (the stage in which it can survive outside the mother’s womb) result in live births. The purpose of the second physician’s attendance is to save the life of the child born under such circumstances while the first doctor attends to the needs of the mother. The Court struck down efforts by states to ban late-term, or partial-birth, abortions in Stenberg v. Carhart, 530 U.S. 914 (2000).

Immature minors do not enjoy the same constitutional rights as adults. In Planned Parenthood v. Danforth, 428 U.S. 52 (1976) the Court held unconstitutional Missouri’s parental-consent requirement for all unmarried minors. In response Missouri passed a new statute that included a judicial bypass procedure. In Planned Parenthood v. Ashcroft, the Court upheld the revised statute, saying that a state can require that adolescent girls obtain the consent of one parent or a judge before procuring an abortion. After finding that the minor is not mature enough to make her own decision, the juvenile court will give consent if it finds that the abortion is in the best interest of the minor. The involvement of the juvenile court furthers the state’s interest in protecting the well-being of children.

The Court held that the small additional cost of a pathologist’s examination of tissue removed during an abortion was outweighed by the substantial benefits obtained. Because the pathologist’s microscopic examination might reveal the presence of cancer or other serious disease, the requirement of such an examination advances the state’s interest in safeguarding the woman’s health. None of the restrictions upheld by the Court was a serious obstacle to the exercise of the abortion right found in Roe v. Wade.

KENNETH M. HOLLAND

References and Further Reading

  • Buss, Emily, The Parental Rights of Minors, Buffalo Law Review 48 (2000): 785–833.
  • Dolgin, Janet L., The Fate of Childhood: Legal Models of Children and the Parent–Child Relationship, Albany Law Review 61 (1997): 345–431.
  • Katz, Katheryn D., The Pregnant Child’s Right to Self- Determination, Albany Law Review 62 (1999): 1119– 1166.
  • Tradition of Choice: Planned Parenthood at Seventy-Five. New York: Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Inc., 1991.

Cases and Statutes Cited

  • Akron v. Akron Center of Reproductive Health, 462 U.S. 416 (1983)
  • Planned Parenthood v. Danforth, 428 U.S. 52 (1976)
  • Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973)
  • Stenberg v. Carhart, 530 U.S. 914 (2000)

See also Abortion; Akron v. Akron Center for Reproductive Health, 462 U.S. 416 (1983); Due Process of Law (V and XIV); Planned Parenthood of Missouri v. Danforth, 428 U.S. 52 (1976); Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973); Stenberg v. Carhart, 530 U.S. 914 (2000)

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