Abortion case law

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The issue of abortion has generated a significant amount of case law. Here are notable quotes from some of the opinions that courts have rendered.

Sourced[edit]

  • [T]he vast majority of physicians observe the standards of their profession, and act only on the basis of carefully deliberated medical judgments relating to life and health. Plainly, the Court today rejects any claim that the Constitution requires abortions on demand.
    • Warren E. Burger, U.S. Supreme Court, incorrectly assessing the eventual legal interpretation of the ruling and development of abortion-on-demand, from his concurring opinion in Doe v. Bolton, (January 22, 1973)[1]
  • At the heart of liberty is the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life....[P]eople have organized intimate relationships and made choices that define their views of themselves and their places in society, in reliance on the availability of abortion in the event that contraception should fail…. We conclude the line should be drawn at viability, so that, before that time, the woman has a right to choose to terminate her pregnancy....[T]here is no line other than viability which is more workable. To be sure, as we have said, there may be some medical developments that affect the precise point of viability, but this is an imprecision within tolerable limits....A husband has no enforceable right to require a wife to advise him before she exercises her personal choices.
  • The third party killing of a fetus with malice aforethought is murder . . . as long as the state can show that the fetus has progressed beyond the embryonic stage of seven to eight weeks.
  • It thus appears the mansion of constitutionalized abortion law, constructed overnight in Roe v. Wade, must be disassembled doorjamb by doorjamb.
    • Antonin Scalia, as quoted in Scalia Dissents: Writings of the Supreme Court's Wittiest, Most Outspoken Justice, edited by Kevin A. Ring, 2004.
  • Aware that in Roe it essentially created something out of nothing and that there are many in this country who hold that decision to be basically illegitimate, the Court responds defensively.... I do not share the warped point of view of the majority, nor can I follow the tortuous path the majority treads in proceeding to strike down the statute before us. I dissent.

Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973)[edit]

  • This right of privacy... is broad enough to encompass a woman's decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy....[T]he word 'person', as used in the 14th Amendment, does not include the unborn.
    • Harry Blackmun, U.S. Supreme Court, author of majority opinion in (1973).
  • The fact that a majority of the States reflecting, after all, the majority sentiment in those States, have had restrictions on abortions for at least a century is a strong indication, it seems to me, that the asserted right to an abortion is not ‘so rooted in the traditions and conscience of our people as to be ranked as fundamental...’
    • William H. Rehnquist, U.S. Supreme Court, one of two dissenters against the majority opinion in the landmark abortion case, Roe v. Wade (January 22, 1973).
  • Several decisions of this Court make clear that freedom of personal choice in matters of marriage and family life is one of the liberties protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. . . . That right necessarily includes the right of a woman to decide whether or not to terminate her pregnancy.
  • At the heart of the controversy in these cases are those recurring pregnancies that pose no danger whatsoever to the life or health of the mother but are, nevertheless, unwanted for any one or more of a variety of reasons -- convenience, family planning, economics, dislike of children, the embarrassment of illegitimacy, etc.
    • Byron White, U.S. Supreme Court, one of two dissenters in Roe v. Wade, (January 22, 1973).
  • I find nothing in the language or history of the Constitution to support the court's judgment. The court simply fashions and announces a new constitutional right for pregnant mothers and, with scarcely any reason or authority for its action, invests that right with sufficient substance to override most existing state abortion statutes.
    • Byron White, U.S. Supreme Court, one of two dissenters in Roe v. Wade, (January 22, 1973).

Stenberg v. Carhart, 530 U.S. 914 (2000)[edit]

  • The fetus, in many cases, dies just as a human adult or child would: It bleeds to death as it is torn from limb from limb. The fetus can be alive at the beginning of the dismemberment process and can survive for a time while its limbs are being torn off.
  • We are referred to substantial medical authority that [partial-birth abortion] perverts the natural birth process to a greater degree than [D&E], commandeering the live birth process until the skull is pierced. Witnesses to the procedure relate that the fingers and feet of the fetus are moving prior to the piercing of the skull; when the scissors are inserted in the back of the head, the fetus' body, wholly outside the woman's body and alive, reacts as though startled and goes limp. [Partial-birth abortion]'s stronger resemblance to infanticide means Nebraska could conclude the procedure presents a greater risk of disrespect for life and a consequent greater risk to the profession and society, which depend for their sustenance upon reciprocal recognition of dignity and respect. The Court is without authority to second-guess this conclusion.
    • Anthony Kennedy, dissenting.
  • The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) 'could identify no circumstances under which [partial-birth abortion] would be the only option to save the life or preserve the health of the woman.' The American Medical Association agrees....
    • Anthony Kennedy, dissenting.
  • I am optimistic enough to believe that, one day, Stenberg v. Carhart will be assigned its rightful place in the history of this Court’s jurisprudence beside Korematsu and Dred Scott.
  • The state could have been concerned about rendering society callous to infanticide ... the horror of seeing a live human creature outside the womb dismembered. Can't that be a valid societal interest?
    • Antonin Scalia, questioning attorneys during oral arguments (April 25, 2000).
  • The method of killing a human child, one cannot even accurately say an entirely unborn human child, proscribed by this statute is so horrible that the most clinical description of it evokes a shudder of revulsion... the notion that the constitution of the United States, designed, among other things, 'to establish justice, insure domestic tranquillity, ... and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity,' prohibits the states from simply banning this visibly brutal means of eliminating our half-born posterity is quite simply absurd.
    • Antonin Scalia, dissenting.
  • If only for the sake of its own preservation, the Court should return this matter to the people – where the Constitution, by its silence on the subject, left it – and let them decide, State by State, whether this practice should be allowed.
    • Antonin Scalia, dissenting.