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Akron v. Akron Center for Reproductive Health

Right To Abortion Upheld, But Imperiled

The Supreme Court upheld Akron's hospitalization requirement, while affirming the lower court's ruling that the provisions on parental consent, informed consent, waiting period, and disposal of fetal remains were unconstitutional. The latter provisions, the Court said, only succeeded in making abortions more expensive, not in making them safer for the mother. Justice Powell wrote the opinion for the Court, which voted 6-3 against the main thrust of the Akron ordinance.

The significance of Akron v. Akron Center for Reproductive Health, however, grew out of the dissenting opinion written by the Court's newest member, O'Connor, the first female Supreme Court justice. Ever since it was handed down, Roe v. Wade, which was decided by a vote of 7-2, had been hotly debated. It now appeared that there was a growing consensus within the Court itself that Roe needed to be curtailed, if not overturned. O'Connor's dissent, in which she objected to the trimester approach taken in Roe, proved to be highly influential. Such an approach, she argued, was likely to prove unworkable as technological innovation pushed the time of fetal viability further and further back. Restrictions such as those at issue in Akron should be permitted to stand so long as they did not place an "undue burden" on a mother's decision about whether or not to terminate her pregnancy. For O'Connor, restrictions such as a waiting period were desirable:

[T]he decision to abort is "a stressful one," and the waiting period reasonably relates to the State's interest in ensuring that a woman does not make this serious decision in undue haste. The decision also has grave consequences for the fetus, whose life the State has a compelling interest to protect and preserve . . . The waiting period is surely a small cost to impose to ensure that the woman's decision is well considered in light of its certain and irreparable consequences on fetal life, and the possible effects on her own.

Votes on subsequent abortion cases coming before the Court grew ever closer until, in Webster v. Reproductive Health Services (1989), the Court did away with the trimester framework altogether. Although O'Connor voted with the 5-4 majority in Webster, she declined to join in with the view that Roe v. Wade should be reversed outright. In 1992, in the case of Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, she joined Justices Kennedy and Souter in drafting a majority opinion reaffirming the fundamentals of Roe v. Wade.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1981 to 1988Akron v. Akron Center for Reproductive Health - Significance, Right To Abortion Upheld, But Imperiled, Abortion Statistics, Further Readings