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Thornburgh v. American College of Obstetricians & Gynecologists (1986)

In Brief

Thornburgh v. American College of Obstetricians & Gynecologists (1986): Court invalidates informed consent, reporting, and post-viability regulations

The legislature of Pennsylvania passed a comprehensive abortion law, including: (1) a provision requiring that the woman be told the name of her abortion doctor, the possible physical and psychological effects and particular medical risks of the abortion, the gestational age of the child, the availability of medical help for childbirth, that the father is liable for child support, and that printed information is available on fetal development and agencies offering abortion alternatives, (2) a provision requiring abortion doctors to report the identity of the doctors referring and performing the abortion, the woman's county or city, age, race, marital status, number of prior pregnancies, date of last menstrual period and probable gestational age of the child, the basis for any determination of medical emergency and of non-viability, and the method of payment for the abortion, and (3) for post-viability abortions, a provision requiring the use of the abortion technique most likely to allow the child to be aborted alive (as long as it would not present a significantly greater risk to the woman's life or health) and the presence of a second doctor to attempt to save the child's life.

The Pennsylvania branch of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and a group of abortion doctors and clergymen filed suit claiming the provisions were unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court agreed, concluding that the law was designed to deter women from exercising their right to choose abortion: The informed consent provision required irrelevant information, increased the patient's anxiety, officially structured the doctor-patient dialogue, and intruded on the doctor's judgment. The reporting requirement went beyond health-related matters and raised the specter of public exposure and harassment of women. The post-viability provision required the mother to bear an increased medical risk in order to save the baby and failed to provide a medical-emergency exception for cases where the woman's health was endangered by delay in the arrival of the second physician.

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