Through the power of judicial review, the
Supreme Court has a great deal of control over reproductive rights
The holdings on cases throughout the last 100 years have provided some
of the greatest advances in the struggle for reproductive rights.
Current Supreme Court Justices and their stances on reproductive issues
Reproductive Rights Court Cases Chronologically:
US v. One Package of Japanese Pessaries (1930)
Connecticut Supreme Court of Errors (1940)
Consumers Union v. Frank Walker (1944)
Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 U.S. 479 (1965)*
United States v. Vuitch (1971)*
Eisenstadt v. Baird (1972)
Roe v Wade (1973)*
Doe v Bolton, 410 US 179 (1973)*
Commonwealth v. Edelin (1975)
Planned Parenthood of Central Missouri v. Danforth (1976)
Bellotti v. Baird (1976)
Maher v. Roe (1977), Beal v. Doe (1977), Poelker v. Doe (1977)
Carey v. Population Services International (1977)
Bellotti v. Baird II (1979)
Colautti v. Franklin (1979)
Harris v McRae (1980)
H. L. v. Matheson (1981)
City of v. Akron Center of Reproductive Health (1983)
Planned Parenthood of Kansas City, Missouri v. Ashcroft
Bolger v. Youngs Drug Products Corp (1983)
Thornburg v. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (1986)
Diamond v. Charles (1986)
Babbitt v. Planned Parenthood of Central and Northern Arizona (1986)
Webster vs. Reproductive Health Services, 492 U.S.
Ohio v. Akron Center for Reproductive Health (1990)
Hodgson v. State of Minnesota (1990)
New York Second Circuit Court of Appeals (1990)
Rust v. Sullivan (1991)
Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v Casey,
505 U.S. 833 (1992)*
National Organization for Women v. Scheidler (1994)*
Madsen v. Women's Health Center, 114 US 798 (1994)*
Schenck v. Pro-Choice Network of Western New York (1997)
Stenberg v. Carhart, 530 US 914 (2000)*
Hill v. Colorado (2000)
Ferguson v. City of Charleston (2001)
Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA)
v. Ashcroft (2004),
National Abortion Federation (NAF) v. Ashcroft (2004),
Carhart v. Ashcroft (2004) *
most influential and significant court cases on reproductive rights of
US v. One Package of Japanese Pessaries (1930):
Judge Augustus Hand US Circuit Court of Appeals stops short of declaring
the Comstock Laws unconstitutional but orders their liberalizing. This
decision was based on contemporary data which found that birth control
was not obscene due to the damages unplanned pregnancy and the benefits
of contraceptives. This ruling only applies to New York, Connecticut,
Connecticut Supreme Court of Errors (1940):
This case upholds the Connecticut Comstock statute which prohibits
the use of contraceptives and denies physicians the ability of prescribing
Consumers Union v. Frank Walker (1944):
This case further liberalizes the Comstock laws to allow pamphlets
on effective contraceptives to be sent through the mail upon request.
Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 U.S. 479 (1965):
This Supreme Court case overturns Connecticut law that prohibits the
use of contraceptives for married couples. This case challenged and
overturned the 1961 ruling in Poe v. Ullman which upheld Connecticut
law prohibiting the distribution on the grounds that the Fourteenth
Amendment Due Process clause had not been enforced for years
United States v. Vuitch (1971):
This case was brought to the Supreme Court challenging a law in Washington
DC which allowed abortion in cases where the health or life of the
mother was at risk. This law was upheld stating that “health” meant
both “psychological and physical well-being”.
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Eisenstadt v. Baird, 405 U.S. 438 (1972):
This case declares a Massachusetts statute banning the distribution
of contraceptives to unmarried people unconstitutional.
Roe v. Wade (1973):
Doe v. Bolton, 410 US 179 (1973):
In this Supreme Court case, a 1968 Georgia abortion law was challenged
that prohibited abortion except when necessary for medical reasons,
or in cases of rape, incest, or fetal abnormalities. The law required
that approval had to be granted by two doctors and a committee and
that it must be performed in a hospital. The Supreme Court struck
down this law on the basis of the constitutional guarantee of privacy.
This decision defines expands the definition of health decided on
in United States v. Vuitch (1971) so that "health" included "all
factors" that affect the woman, including "physical, emotional,
psychological, familial, and the woman's age."
Commonwealth v. Edelin (1975):
In this case, Dr. Kenneth Edelin was convicted of manslaughter for
performing an abortion on a 20 week old fetus at Boston City Hospital.
This abortion was legal under Massachusetts law. The decision of
the Superior Court of Boston was overturned in 1976 by the Supreme
Court of Massachusetts. The court rules that legal abortions can
only be considered manslaughter if the fetus is alive and outside
the mothers body.
Planned Parenthood of Central Missouri v. Danforth (1976):
In this case, the Supreme Court declared the Missouri laws that require
the consent of parents (of minors) and spouses in order to obtain
an abortion unconstitutional. It also struck down the portion of
the law that prohibited saline amniocentesis as a method of abortion.
It upheld the right of state to require a minor to receive permission
of one parent but that there must exist a clause containing a “judicial
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Bellotti v. Baird (1976):
In this case, the Supreme Court also considers a parental notification
law; this time in Massachusetts. However, this law required that
minors must obtain consent of either parents or a judge in order
an abortion. The case is returns to the Massachusetts Supreme Court
with instructions to provide clearer and more precise guidelines
for on what grounds judges may grant or deny abortions to minors.
Maher v. Roe (1977), Beal v. Doe (1977), Poelker v. Doe (1977):
This Supreme Court case declares that states and local governments
are not obligated to fund abortions in public assistance programs
like Medicaid. It also decides that localities may refuse to provide
abortions in publicly funded hospitals even if the abortion is medically
Carey v. Population Services International (1977):
This Supreme Court case struck down a New York law that severely restricted
access to contraceptives. It prohibited the sale of contraceptives
to minors under 16, displaying and advertising contraceptives, and
restricted the sale of nonprescription methods of birth control to
Bellotti v. Baird II (1979):
Bellotti v. Baird is appealed to the Supreme Court which upholds the
Massachusetts Supreme Court ruling that any laws requiring parental
consent prior to minors receiving abortions must include a “judicial
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Colautti v. Franklin (1979):
This Supreme Court case reviewed the constitutionality of a Pennsylvania
law that required that doctors must determine whether the fetus “is
or may be viable” immediately prior to performing an abortion.
This law was struck down on the grounds of the ambiguity of the meaning
of viable or “may be viable” and that such a decision must
be made on case-by-case basis.
Harris v McRae (1980):
This Supreme Court case reviews the constitutionality of the Hyde Amendments
which restrict federal funding for family planning and abortions.
The laws were upheld on the grounds that there exists no constitutional
guarantee for women to receive abortions at the public’s expense
and that by encouraging childbirth to abortion except in extreme
cases that the law is related to the legitimate governmental goal
of preserving life.
H. L. v. Matheson (1981):
In this case the Supreme Court upholds a Utah parental notification
statute. This statute requires the physician to notify the parents
of a minor prior to performing an abortion unless there is proof
that harm could result to the minor because of the notification.
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City of v. Akron Center of Reproductive Health (1983):
The Supreme Court reviews a restrictive ordinance of the city of Akron,
Ohio that requires a 24 hour waiting period and, an “informed
consent” procedure where the teen receives extensive information
and photographs on the details of the pregnancy and abortion process.
It also requires the consent of both parents or a judge and that abortions
occurring after the second trimester occur in a hospital. This ordinance
was overturned on the grounds that states can only require that second
trimester abortions are performed by licensed physicians not in hospitals.
Planned Parenthood of Kansas City, Missouri v. Ashcroft (1983):
The Supreme Court in this case reaffirms their decision in City of
Akron v. Akron Center of Reproductive Health that states can only
require that licensed physicians perform second trimester abortions
not that they take place in hospitals. It also upholds the rights
of states to require pathology tests, parental consent or judicial
bypass, and the presence of multiple doctors in first trimester abortions.
Bolger v. Youngs Drug Products Corp (1983):
In this case the Supreme Court allows the mailing of unsolicited advertisements
for contraceptives which strikes down the last of the Comstock laws.
Thornburg v. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
(1986) and Diamond v. Charles (1986):
These Supreme Court cases struck down laws that required informed consent,
waiting periods, and that the only methods that will most likely result
in a baby surviving an abortion (“post-viability abortions”)
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Babbitt v. Planned Parenthood of Central and Northern Arizona
In this case, the Supreme Court upheld a lower court decision that
struck down a state law prohibiting state funding for family planning
to organizations that provided abortions and abortion counseling.
Webster v. Reproductive Health Services (1989):
In the Supreme Court ruling, the Supreme Court partially reversed their
earlier Roe v. Wade decision to significantly compromise abortion
rights. In this case, it upheld portions of a Missouri law holding
that it was not a constitutional requirement that public facilities
such as hospitals be available for abortion services. This ruling
created the precedent for allowing states to ban abortions in hospitals.
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Ohio v. Akron Center for Reproductive Health (1990),
Hodgson v. State of Minnesota (1990):
In these Supreme Court cases, the court upholds respectively one and two
parent notification laws that included judicial bypass clauses.
New York Second Circuit Court of Appeals (1990):
This case examined and upheld the “Mexico City policy.”
Rust v. Sullivan (1991):
In this case, the Supreme Court upholds the gag rule on Title X clinics.
Congress then attempts to pass a law overturning the policy but is
unable to overcome George Bush’s veto.
Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v Casey, 505
U.S. 833 (1992):
In this case, the Supreme Court reviewed challenges to several Pennsylvania
regulations on abortions. These regulations required informed consent,
parental notification and a 24- hour waiting period prior to receiving an
abortion. This case is significant because it was expected that the
court would overrule
Roe v. Wade. Roe v. Wade was reaffirmed in the end but increased the ability
of states to place restrictions on access to abortions with a new weaker
definition of “undue burden.” Under the new definition the 24 hour waiting period,
informed consent, and informed consent regulations were upheld and the spousal
notification was struck down. It also changed the original trimester timeline
for permitting abortions. The new holding was based on the viability of the fetus
(approximately 22-23 weeks) instead.
National Organization for Women v. Scheidler
In this case, the Supreme Court unanimously held that the Racketeer Influenced
and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) can be applied to violent pro-choice
activists that use violence to intimidate or force clinics to close. RICO
is a law passed
in 1970 originally intended for use against organized crime. It allows
courts to attack “enterprises” that engage in a “pattern of racketeering.” The
Supreme Court held that anti-abortion groups had "conspired to shut down
abortion clinics through a pattern of racketeering activity." This decision
was overturned in 2003.
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Madsen v. Women's Health Center, 114 US 798 (1994):
In this case, the Supreme Court reviewed injunctions prohibiting pro-life
protesters from demonstrating in certain locals and ways outside health
clinics that provide
abortions and the homes of the employees. It upheld the creation of a 36
foot buffer zone around clinics, their parking lots and driveways. It did
any other of the restrictions on protesting at employee’s homes, visual
aids, approaching employees and patients without consent or noise levels. The
ability to create buffer zones to protect clinic employees and patients was a
significant win for pro-choice activists in a time of increasing violence and
activism from pro-life supporters.
Schenck v. Pro-Choice Network of Western New York (1997):
In this case, the Supreme Court upheld its earlier decision in Madsen
Health Center that fixed buffer zones are allowed. This decision is on the grounds
that these injunctions follow the government’s interest in ensuring public
safety and protecting the right to receive medical services. However, it determines
that floating buffer zones are unconstitutional as the place undue burden on
the freedom of speech.
Stenberg v. Carhart, 530 US 914 (2000):
In this case, the Supreme Court reviewed a Nebraska law banning partial
birth abortions. It was struck down on the grounds that it posed undue
a woman's ability to end her pregnancy because it could ban multiple
methods of abortion
and had no exemption clause protecting the mother’s health.
Hill v. Colorado (2000):
The Supreme Court upholds a Colorado statute creating “bubble zones” as
constitutional. The statute prohibited individuals from approaching closer than
eight feet any person who is within a 100 foot zone of the entrance of a clinic
in order to leaflet, display a sign, or engage is protest, education, or counseling
without the person’s consent.
Ferguson v. City of Charleston (2001):
In this Supreme Court case, the ruling protected the right to privacy
of medical records. It held that all Americans had the right to
like testing without fear of unreasonable intrusion by the government
or that their
records will be shared with non-medical personnel without their
Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) v. Ashcroft
(2004), National Abortion Federation (NAF) v. Ashcroft (2004), Carhart
v. Ashcroft (2004):
These are the three federal courts, in San Francisco, New York and
respectively, that reviewed cases challenging the
Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003.
All three courts declared the law unconstitutional. PPFA v. Ashcroft is
currently on appeal.
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