The woman's fundamental right is not unqualified and must be considered against important state interests in abortion. But restrictive state regulation of the right to choose abortion, as with other fundamental rights subject to searching judicial examination, must be supported by a compelling state interest. The court has recognized two such interests that may justify state regulation of abortions. First, a state has an important and legitimate interest in protecting the potentiality of human life. Although this interest exists throughout the course of the woman's pregnancy, it becomes compelling only at viability, the point at which the fetus has the capability of meaningful life outside the mother's womb. Second, because a state has a legitimate concern with the health of women who undergo abortions, a state may properly assert important interests in safeguarding health and in maintaining medical standards. However, this health interest does not become compelling until approximately the end of the first trimester of pregnancy.
Abortion clinic operators, a physician, and parents challenged the validity of an abortion ordinance which they claimed a woman's right to privacy. The ordinance required that abortions after the first trimester of pregnancy be performed in a hospital. It also contained provisions requiring parental notice and consent for unmarried minors below the age of 15; the physician to make specified statements to the patient to insure informed consent; a 24-hour waiting period between the time the woman signs a consent form and the time the abortion is performed; and provisions on the humane disposal of metal remains. The city and city officials argued that the ordinance placed reasonable restraints on a woman's right to an abortion. The District Court invalidated provisions dealing with parental notice and consent, the provision requiring the disclosure of facts concerning the woman's pregnancy, fetal development, complications of abortion, and agencies available to assist the woman, and the provision dealing with the disposal of fetal remains, but upheld the remainder of the ordinance. The Decision was affirmed in part and reversed in part on appeal.
Is the abortion ordinance unconstitutional?
The Court held the ordinance unconstitutional based on the following conclusions: (1) the second-trimester hospitalization requirement significantly limited a woman's ability to obtain an abortion; (2) medical knowledge did not support the hospitalization requirement; (3) the parental consent ordinance did not create an opportunity for the required case-by-case evaluation of the maturity of pregnant minors; (4) the city attempted to extend the state's interest in ensuring informed consent beyond permissible limits by requiring information intended to persuade a woman not to have an abortion and intruding upon the discretion of the physician; (5) consent was still informed even if the information was not conveyed by a physician; (6) the city failed to demonstrate that any legitimate state interest was furthered by the arbitrary and inflexible waiting period; and (7) the disposal provision failed to give a physician fair notice of what constituted forbidden conduct.