Thornburgh v. American COllege of Obstetricians and Gynecologists 476 U.S. 747 (1986)

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Although this 5–4 decision struck down a series of Pennsylvania laws restricting abortion, it also showed that support within the Supreme Court for the principles of roe v. wade (1973) had eroded. The invalidated restrictions covered a wide range: (1) a twenty-four-hour waiting period; (2) a requirement that a doctor provide a woman seeking an abortion with literature and oral statements, including warnings about medical risks, an estimate of the fetus's gestational age, a description of the probable physical characteristics of the fetus at two-week gestational increments, information about possible medical benefits for childbirth, and a reminder of a father's responsibility for child support; (3) detailed reporting requirements for doctors, including a statement of the basis for the doctor's finding that the fetus was not viable; and (4) a second-physician requirement. Justice harry a. blackmun wrote for the Court, reaffirming Roe v. Wade and concluding that all of the challenged requirements subordinated women's interest in privacy "in an effort to deter a woman from a decision that, along with her physician, is hers to make."

Chief Justice warren e. burger dissented, noting his willingness to "reexamine Roe. " Justice byron r. white, joined by Justice william h. rehnquist, filed a lengthy and vigorous dissent that called for Roe to be overruled and specifically challenged the majority's rulings on each of the provisions invalidated here. Justice sandra day o'connor, the fourth dissenter, reasserted what she had said in an earlier opinion, that was unworkable and should be replaced by a principle that would uphold a law unless it were "unduly burdensome" on a woman's decision to have an abortion. Justice john paul stevens concurred in a long opinion, taking issue with Justice White's attack on Roe. The White-Stevens debate encapsulates many of the main points made in the debate over the proper role of the judiciary in the field of abortion.

Kenneth L. Karst

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Thornburgh v. American COllege of Obstetricians and Gynecologists 476 U.S. 747 (1986)

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