The Supreme Court decided this case challenging a Pennsylvania law in 1992. The Pennsylvania law contained the following provisions:
Biased Counseling - a woman who wants an abortion must be given state-scripted counseling about the health risks of the abortion and of childbirth, and the "probable gestational age of the unborn child." The woman must be informed of the availability of printed materials published by the State describing the fetus and providing information about medical assistance for childbirth, information about child support required by state law from the father, and a list of agencies which provide adoption and other services as alternatives to abortion. An abortion may not be provided unless the woman certifies in writing that she has been informed of the availability of these printed materials and has been provided them if she chooses to view them.
24 hour waiting period - following the initial appointment for the state-scripted counseling, the woman would have to wait 24 hours before having an abortion.
Parental consent - young women under 18 would be required to secure the consent of one parent before the abortion could be provided. If a parent's consent could not be secured, the woman could go before a judge and try to convince the judge that she is mature and capable of giving informed consent or that an abortion would be in her best interests. (See the parental notice and consent cases below).
Spousal notification - would require a married woman to present a statement signed by her husband, attesting that he knows about her intention to have an abortion, before she could undergo the procedure.
Reporting requirements - would require reports to the state for each abortion provided that included the names of any physicians involved; the facility name; the referring physician or agency; the woman's age; the number of prior pregnancies and prior abortions she has had; the gestational age; the type of abortion procedure; the date of the abortion; whether there were any preexisting medical conditions which would complicate pregnancy; any medical complications resulting from the abortion; where applicable, the basis for the determination that the abortion was medically necessary; the weight of the aborted fetus; and whether the woman was married. Every abortion facility would also be required to file quarterly reports showing the number of abortions provided broken down by trimester.
In upholding all of the provisions except the spousal consent requirement, but stopping short of overruling Roe, the Court developed a new way of thinking about abortion cases.
The actual 5-4 ruling is complicated in that there is no clear majority rule. Justices O'Connor, Kennedy and Souter wrote the plurality opinion, joined in part by Justices Stevens and Blackmun. Chief Justice Rehnquist and Justices White, Scalia and Thomas dissented. The plurality opinion refused to overrule Roe and stated that state laws that banned abortion would be unconstitutional. However, the Court abandoned the trimester framework of Roe v. Wade in favor of the undue burden standard previously articulated by O'Connor in Webster v. Reproductive Health Services. Undue burden was defined as a "substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking the abortion of a nonviable fetus." Applying this rule to the provisions at issue, they found that only the spousal consent provision presented an undue burden. Justice Blackmun wrote a concurrence stating that the strict scrutiny applied in Roe should still apply. The dissenters would have upheld all of the provisions and overturned Roe. This case is significant because it is the current standard employed by the Court in deciding laws restricting abortion. This ruling has enabled states to pass more laws restricting access to abortion.
Full text of this decision