As the founders of the Center for Reproductive Rights prepared to argue Planned Parenthood v. Casey before the U.S. Supreme Court 20 years ago, there was a real concern that the decision would overturn Roe v. Wade.
That didn’t happen. But the Casey decision applied a new legal standard to abortion restrictions that cut back on Roe protections and, in effect, allowed an onslaught of legislative assaults-assaults that the Center is now fighting tirelessly to beat back with an arsenal of innovative legal strategies.
Today, we mark the 20th anniversary of Casey. On the heels of more than 100 laws in the past 18 months, each passed to make it more difficult to obtain or provide an abortion, and each made possible by this fateful decision, we reaffirm the critical need for permanent protection of all reproductive rights for every woman.
Casey was a challenge to a Pennsylvania law that included of a number of abortion restrictions. The law required that a woman seeking an abortion be given information expressing the state’s preference for childbirth over abortion, and then wait 24 hours before undergoing the procedure. If she was married, the woman’s husband would have to be notified under the law, if she was a minor, the consent of a parent would have to be obtained. In addition, abortion providers were singled out for special, burdensome requirements to report information about their patients and doctors to the state.
The Supreme Court struck down the spousal notification provision but upheld the other restrictions—and the Casey decision immediately became a pivotal moment in the battle over abortion, diminishing reproductive rights by singling them out as different from, and less absolute than, other rights. The ruling allows a government to exert its influence and authority to coerce a woman not to exercise her constitutionally protected right to reproductive choice. Compounding the damage, it opened the door for anti-choice legislatures to pass innumerable obstacles to reproductive health care access.
With greater leeway in the ensuing two decades, courts found many abortion restrictions constitutional, cracking the foundation of Roe in the process. Since then, the fracture has expanded enough to allow a flood of state-level legislation that has stripped away from women the vital protections established by Roe.
Over the course of the last two decades, the Center for Reproductive Rights has set out to redefine the parameters of our struggle. At the core of that objective is the need to mitigate the harmful aspects of Casey and fortify reproductive rights by establishing them as absolute, as fundamental to women’s equality, dignity, autonomy, and health.
We already have begun that battle, charting new legal territory in each of the state-by-state battles we wage to protect women from the continuing erosion of their reproductive rights. The innovative legal strategies we have developed in the process have had an immediate impact in cases across the country, providing a solid foundation on which to build.
We are using the evidence we amass in our lawsuits to document and expose the dishonesty and hypocrisy of anti-choice legislators who pass reproductive rights restrictions under the guise of protecting women, and their underlying hostility to women’s ability to freely and fully exercise their fundamental reproductive freedom. And we are systematically documenting the harm that results when this hostility is enacted as law.
We are building on the momentum we have developed, and on the rekindled outrage over anti-choice assaults that has swept the United States in the past year, laying the groundwork and building an unassailable case for new national standards that provide permanent, robust protection for the fundamental reproductive rights of all women, everywhere across the country.