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Planned Parenthood v. Danforth (1976)

In Brief

Planned Parenthood of Central Missouri v. Danforth   (1976): Court invalidates spousal and parental consent, saline abortion limitation, and duty of care to save the baby, but upholds viability definition and informed consent

Missouri legislators passed a law requiring abortion doctors to obtain a written statement from the mother certifying that her consent was freely given and not the result of coercion and also the written consent of her husband or of her parent if she was a minor girl (unless the abortion was necessary to save the mother's life). It also required doctors to exercise professional care to preserve the baby's life and health, declared babies who survived abortion to be abandoned wards of the state, prohibited saline injection abortions after 12 weeks, created an official definition for viability, and established reporting and recordkeeping requirements for abortion clinics and doctors.

A Missouri Planned Parenthood clinic filed suit, claiming all provisions of the law were unconstitutional.

The Court upheld the requirement for written consent from the woman but concluded that spousal and parental consent requirements amounted to an unconstitutional "veto power" over a decision which should be left to the "medical judgment of the pregnant woman's attending physician" according to Roe. The Court also upheld the recordkeeping requirements and the definition of viability because it maintained the flexibility recognized in Roe v. Wade. The Court struck down the prohibition on saline abortions, calling it an "arbitrary regulation designed to prevent the vast majority of abortions" after 12 weeks, and the duty of care provision because it required a doctor to preserve the baby's life whatever the stage of pregnancy. The Court declined to rule on the constitutionality of making abortion survivors wards of the state.

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