Planned Parenthood v. Casey: 25 Years Later

If you are at all familiar with the modern abortion debate, you know about Roe v. Wade.  The 1973 Supreme Court ruling claimed that women have a constitutional right to have abortions and paved the way to where we are today in terms of abortion-on-demand.  But for those interested in the eventual eradication of abortion in our nation, there is another pivotal court case that must not be overlooked.  On June 29th, 1992, almost two decades after the Roe decision, the Supreme Court released its ruling on the case of Planned Parenthood v. Casey.  Today, exactly twenty-five years later, the implications of that decision present a serious obstacle to the pro-life cause. 

Planned Parenthood v. Casey was one of the first cases to significantly challenge Roe, and many saw it as a prime opportunity for the Supreme Court to overturn its previous ruling.  Tragically, the complete opposite happened.  Not only did the Court’s decision on Casey reaffirm Roe v. Wade, it went even further, adding language that prohibited states from passing statutes which could place “a substantial obstacle in the path of a woman’s choice,” arguing that such regulations would “impose an undue burden” on a woman’s right to choose abortion.  Such wording has proven extremely problematic for the pro-life side, primarily because the definition of an “undue burden” is in the eye of the beholder, primarily liberal judges.  We have seen fallout from the precedent set in Casey several times since 1992, most notably in last summer’s ruling on Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt.

Though the justices cited Roe v. Wade in their Hellerstedt decision, it was Planned Parenthood v. Casey, not Roe, which gave the court the most substantial grounds for striking down Texas’ laws to regulate abortion facilities.  Ironically, the Hellerstedt decision, in which the Court decided that requiring abortion facilities to meet the standards of an ambulatory surgical care center placed “a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking a pre-viability abortion,” and thereby constituting an “undue burden” on the right to abortion, was released just two days shy of Casey’s 24th anniversary.  Had the court ruled the other way in Hellerstedt, Texas would have been down to fewer than ten abortion clinics in the entire state.  Who knows how many clinics would have closed around the country if other states, following Texas’ example, had passed similar measures?

Instead we are here today: a quarter of a century since Planned Parenthood v. Casey, and still suffering the consequences of the Court’s degradation of life.  With a President supportive of pro-life efforts and a Republican majority in Congress, there is considerable opportunity to challenge our abortion-on-demand culture, but we should remain mindful of our legislative limitations. We have seen how much wiggle room Casey gives to the states when it comes to restricting abortions, even when it involves improving health and safety standards, but it is not enough.  An important struggle lies ahead of us in the courts.  In the meantime, we should do what we can, in state and local governments, on sidewalks and in pregnancy centers, but we will never reach an end to abortion until Casey and Roe are gone. Let’s pray it doesn’t take another 25 years to see them overturned.

By Jessica Skansi, 2017 Family Foundation Intern