A pregnant woman retains this freedom to choose abortion until the point at which the fetus becomes viable, or capable of living on its own. At that point, the state may forbid abortions, the court said, though the justices noted that they were setting aside the strict "trimester" timetable set forth in Roe vs. Wade.
The court then applied that legal framework to a 1989 Pennsylvania abortion law.
First, the government may require doctors to give pregnant women "truthful and non-misleading information" about abortion and alternatives such as adoption. The physicians may also be required to wait 24 hours before performing the procedure except in medical emergencies. These regulations help ensure that a pregnant woman makes an "informed choice" and do not put "an undue burden" on her decision, the court said.
Second, the state may require that a pregnant minor get the consent of one parent, so long as she can avoid this requirement in a "medical emergency" or by getting a waiver from a judge.
Third, the state may require that abortion clinics keep records on the procedures performed, so long as the identity of the patients is kept confidential.
Fourth, the state may not require that an adult woman notify her husband of her intention to get an abortion. A woman's right to choose abortion is paramount, O'Connor said.
"The husband's interest in the life of the child his wife is carrying does not permit the state to empower him with this troubling degree of authority over his wife," she said. Pennsylvania officials said that at least 95% of married women do discuss their abortion plans with their husbands, but the state cannot force reluctant wives to do so, the court said.
Altogether, the justices wrote 167 pages of opinions and dissents in the case (Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania vs. Casey, 91-744).
In the end, the outcome affirms entirely the decision reached last year by the U.S. appeals court in Philadelphia. It upheld the new Pennsylvania regulations, except the requirement that women notify their husbands. Both sides had appealed to the Supreme Court.
How the Justices Lined Up in 5-4 Decision
To Uphold Roe vs. Wade O'Connor Kennedy Souter Blackmun Stevens
Sought to Verturn Roe vs. Wade Rehnquist White Scalia Thomas