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. 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.
A lawsuit was filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, challenging the provisions of an Akron ordinance regulating the performance of abortions. The provisions required that all abortions performed after the first trimester of pregnancy be performed in a hospital; that there be notification of and consent by parents before abortions could be performed on unmarried minors under the age of 15; that the attending physician make certain specified statements to the patient to insure that the consent for an abortion be truly informed consent; that there be a 24-hour waiting period between the time the woman signs a consent form and the time the abortion is performed; and that fetal remains be disposed of in a humane and sanitary manner. A violation of the ordinance was punishable as a criminal misdemeanor.
Are the provisions of an Akron ordinance regulating the performance of abortions constitutional?
The Court invalidated those sections of the City of Akron's abortion ordinance that involved parental consent, informed consent, a 24-hour waiting period, and the disposal of fetal remains. The Court reversed the City of Akron's requirement that all second-trimester abortions were to be performed in a hospital. The Court concluded that (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.