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Law School Case Brief

Thornburgh v. Am. Coll. of Obstetricians & Gynecologists - 476 U.S. 747, 106 S. Ct. 2169 (1986)


If a trial court's ruling rests solely on a premise as to the applicable rule of law, and the facts are established or of no controlling relevance, that ruling may be reviewed even though the appeal is from the entry of a preliminary injunction. 


After some provisions of previous Pennsylvania statutes regulating abortion had been declared unconstitutional, the state passed another abortion control statute. Prior to the effective date, an organization of obstetricians and gynecologists, together with various individuals, filed suit against several state and local officials in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, alleging that the statute violated the United States Constitution, and seeking declaratory and injunctive relief. As ordered by the District Court, the parties submitted a stipulation of uncontested facts, solely for the purpose of determining a motion for preliminary injunction, and without prejudice to any party's right to controvert any facts, or to prove any additional facts at any later proceeding in the action. Except as to one provision for which a preliminary injunction was granted, the District Court denied the plaintiffs preliminary injunctive relief, concluding that a likelihood of success on the merits had not been established with respect to the other provisions. On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit eventually ordered a remand as to a provision on parental consent, and directly held several other provisions of the abortion control statute unconstitutional; the Court of Appeals expressed the opinion that the customary discretion accorded a District Court's ruling on a preliminary injunction yielded to a plenary scope of review as to the applicable law.


Did the Court of Appeals err in holding that certain provisions of the Pennsylvania's current Abortion Control Act were unconstitutional?




The Court held that, by wholly subordinating constitutional privacy interests and concerns with maternal health, in an effort to deter a woman from making a decision that, with her physician, was hers to make, the following provisions of the state statute unconstitutionally infringed on a woman's fundamental right to an abortion: (1) an informed-consent requirement to deliver specified information to a woman seeking an abortion; (2) certain abortion reporting requirements whose records would be available to the public; (3) a particular standard of care required when aborting a viable fetus; and (4) a requirement that a second physician be present during an abortion, without an express medical-emergency exception.

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