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Planned Parenthood of Central Missouri v. Danforth

Three Issues Of Consent

The Court next approached three provisions in the statutes requiring one form of consent or another before an abortion could be performed: section 3 (2), by which a woman had to provide written consent that she had agreed to the abortion before she underwent it; section 3 (3), which required that a married woman's husband give his consent to the abortion in situations where the operation was not necessary to preserve the woman's life; and section 3 (4), which required the consent of parents before a minor could have an abortion.

The Court found section 3 (2), the requirement of written consent, constitutional. The appellants had charged that the statute violated Roe by adding an "extra layer and burden of regulation on the abortion decision"; the district court, however, had ruled that the decision to end a pregnancy is "often a stressful one," and that 3 (2) "insures that the pregnant woman retains control over the discretions of her consulting physician." The Court agreed, despite the fact that with rare exceptions, Missouri required no written consent for other types of medical procedures. Abortion, clearly, was a special type of operation; and in any case, "We could not say that a requirement imposed by the State that a prior written consent for any surgery would be unconstitutional."

As for section 3 (3), requiring spousal consent, the Court found this statute unconstitutional. The appellees had argued that marriage was an institution to be respected under Missouri law; therefore, "a change in the family structure set in motion by mutual consent should be terminated only by mutual consent." In the view of the appellants, section 3 (3) made it possible for a husband to demand that his wife not abort, whether or not she felt that was the best decision. The Court held to the logic that "Inasmuch as it is the woman who physically bears the child . . . the balance weighs in her favor" when it comes to final decision-making power. Therefore, it declared section 3 (3) unconstitutional.

The Court similarly found section 3 (4), the requirement of parental consent for minors, unconstitutional. The appellees had pointed out that, due to the desire of the state to protect their best interests, minors already enjoyed fewer rights than adults, and were thus prohibited from purchasing alcohol, firearms, tobacco, and pornography. The appellants, on the other hand, argued that Missouri made no other requirements for adult consent, even in the situation of a minor giving birth to a child. The district court had taken the side of the appellees, finding "a compelling basis" for the state's interest "in safeguarding the authority of the family relationship." The Supreme Court, however, ruled that "constitutional rights do not mature and come into being magically only when one attains the state-defined age of majority." Furthermore, it was not likely that the parental consent law, by "providing the parent with absolute power" would necessarily "serve to strengthen the family unit." That being said, the Court made clear that it "does not suggest that every minor, regardless of age or maturity, may give effective consent for termination of her pregnancy."

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1973 to 1980Planned Parenthood of Central Missouri v. Danforth - Decision, A Question Of Viability, Three Issues Of Consent, Three Other Provisions, Concurrence And Dissent