Excerpts From High Court’s Abortion Opinions

United Press International

Excerpts from Wednesday’s Supreme Court ruling that Pennsylvania’s abortion law is unconstitutional:

Justice Harry A. Blackmun for the majority:

“The states are not free, under the guise of protecting maternal health or potential life, to intimidate women into continuing pregnancies. Appellants claim that the statutory provisions before us today further legitimate compelling interests of the Commonwealth. Close analysis of those provisions, however, shows that they wholly subordinate constitutional privacy interests and concerns with maternal health in an effort to deter a woman from making a decision that, with her physician, is hers to make . . . .

“The printed materials required (to be delivered to the woman by the law) seem to us to be nothing less than an outright attempt to wedge the Commonwealth’s message discouraging abortion into the privacy of the informed-consent dialogue between the woman and her physician. The mandated description of fetal characteristics at two-week intervals, no matter how objective, is plainly over-inclusive. This is not medical information that is always relevant to the woman’s decision, and it may serve only to confuse and punish her and to heighten her anxiety, contrary to accepted medical practice . . . . This type of compelled information is the antithesis of informed consent. That the Commonwealth does not, and surely would not, compel similar disclosure of every possible peril of necessary surgery or of simple vaccination, reveals the anti-abortion character of the statute and its real purpose . . . .


Reports Criticized

“The required Pennsylvania reports (that doctors must file detailing a variety of medical and personal information about the woman) . . . while claimed not to be ‘public,’ are available nonetheless to the public for copying. Moreover, there is no limitation on the use to which the Commonwealth or the public copiers may put them. . . . A woman and her physician will necessarily be more reluctant to choose an abortion if there exists a possibility that her identity will become known publicly . . . .

“Our cases long have recognized that the Constitution embodies a promise that a certain private sphere of individual liberty will be kept largely beyond the reach of government. . . . That promise extends to women as well as to men. Few decisions are more personal and intimate, more properly private, or more basic to individual dignity and autonomy, than a woman’s decision--with the guidance of her physician and within the limits specified in Roe--whether to end her pregnancy. A woman’s right to make that choice freely is fundamental. Any other result, in our view, would protect inadequately a central part of the sphere of liberty that our law guarantees equally to all.”

Chief Justice Warren E. Burger, dissenting:


“Today, the court astonishingly goes so far as to say that the state may not even require that a woman contemplating an abortion be provided with accurate medical information concerning the risks inherent in the medical procedure which she is about to undergo and the availability of state-funded alternatives if she elects not to run those risks . . . .

“We have apparently already passed the point at which abortion is available merely on demand. If the statute at issue here is to be invalidated, the ‘demand’ will not even have to be the result of an informed choice.”

Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, dissenting:

The court’s previous abortion rulings have “worked a major distortion in the court’s constitutional jurisprudence . . . .”


“Today’s decision goes even further and makes it painfully clear that no legal rule or doctrine is safe from ad hoc nullification by this court when an occasion for its application arises in a case involving state regulation of abortion.”

Justice Byron R. White, dissenting:

“The decision today appears symptomatic of the court’s own insecurity over its handiwork in Roe vs. Wade and the cases following that decision. Aware that in Roe it essentially created something out of nothing and that there are many in this country who hold that decision to be basically illegitimate, the court responds defensively. Perceiving, in a statute implementing the state’s legitimate policy of preferring childbirth to abortion, a threat to or criticism of the decision in Roe vs. Wade, the majority indiscriminately strikes down statutory provisions that in no way contravene the right recognized in Roe. I do not share the warped point of view of the majority, nor can I follow the tortuous path the majority treads in proceeding to strike down the statute before us.”