Pa. court case from 1992 as rel­e­vant to­day as Roe v. Wade

G. Terry Madonna and Michael Young

Times Chronicle & Public Spirit - - OPINION -

Roe v. Wade is, per­haps, the sem­i­nal court case of our era. Cer­tainly no U.S. Supreme Court case has been cited more of­ten in the ac­ri­mo­nious de­bate over Brett Ka­vanaugh’s nom­i­na­tion to the Supreme Court. But a se­cond crit­i­cal court de­ci­sion, less re­mem­bered to­day, but not less im­por­tant was Planned Par­ent­hood of South­east­ern Penn­syl­va­nia v. Casey. Its his­tory and back­ground are as rel­e­vant to­day as they were back in 1992 when the case was re­solved by the Supreme Court.

Roe made abor­tion a right; Casey de­fined the lim­its states could im­pose on that right.

In 1989 the Penn­syl­va­nia Leg­is­la­ture had passed changes to its 1982 Abor­tion Con­trol Act, re­quir­ing among other pro­vi­sions “in­formed con­sent” pro­ce­dures as well as a 24-hour wait­ing pe­riod be­fore an abor­tion could be ob­tained. In ad­di­tion a mi­nor seek­ing an abor­tion would now re­quire the ap­proval of one par­ent or a court, and a mar­ried woman would have to no­tify her hus­band that she in­tended to get the pro­ce­dure.

Chal­lenged quickly, a fed­eral dis­trict court struck down the en­tire Penn­syl­va­nia law only to be largely over­turned by the 3rd Cir­cuit Court of Ap­peals.

Ul­ti­mately, the case moved to the Supreme Court as the un­wieldy Planned Par­ent­hood of South­east­ern Penn­syl­va­nia vs. Casey (505 U.S. 833 (1992). In a 5-4 opin­ion, the Supreme Court up­held the Roe v. Wade de­ci­sion but it also al­lowed states to con­tinue to reg­u­late abor­tions sub­ject to clear lim­i­ta­tions. Among them: the state could legally ban abor­tion if the fe­tus was vi­able and no “un­due bur­den” was im­posed on women.

No is­sue roiled Penn­syl­va­nia pol­i­tics more at the time. It also slowly seeped into na­tional elec­toral pol­i­tics amid rag­ing de­bates about abor­tion. At the cen­ter of it was the state’s gov­er­nor Bob Casey a lead­ing pro­po­nent of abor­tion con­trol and an op­po­nent of Roe. In fact, the gov­er­nor had ve­toed an ear­lier abor­tion con­trol bill sent to him by the leg­is­la­ture be­cause it failed to put enough con­straints on Roe.

Casey had emerged as of one the na­tion’s lead­ing politi­cians op­pos­ing abor­tion. No politi­cian ever showed more de­ter­mi­na­tion and forthright­ness. He started his ca­reer as a state sen­a­tor from Scran­ton, even­tu­ally seek­ing the gover­nor­ship three times be­fore win­ning on a fourth ef­fort in 1986. In be­tween, he was elected twice as Au­di­tor Gen­eral of the state. Along the way he suf­fered three losses for gov­er­nor in his own party pri­mary earn­ing him the so­bri­quet, “the three-time loss” from Holy Cross, a ref­er­ence to his un­der­grad­u­ate col­lege.

In to­day’s terms Casey was “a cul­tural con­ser­va­tive and a so­cial lib­eral.” He was no con­ser­va­tive on us­ing the gov­ern­ment to ex­pand the econ­omy and to help the dis­ad­van­taged. His Chil­dren’s Health In­sur­ance Pro­gram (CHIP) was a model for the rest of the na­tion. It pro­vided in­sur­ance to chil­dren whose fam­ily in­come was too much to qual­ity for med­i­cal as­sis­tance.

But de­spite Casey’s lib­eral in­cli­na­tions, he op­posed abor­tion rights with a vengeance. It cost him po­lit­i­cally and cre­ated a huge stir within the state and the na­tion. It also put him at odds with many politi­cians in his own party.

Casey be­came an anath­ema in the na­tional Demo­cratic party, while many Penn­syl­va­nia con­ven­tional del­e­gates at the con­ven­tion were dumb­founded if not openly un­happy by the gov­er­nor’s pub­lic stance.

Casey, nonethe­less, con­tin­ued to serve the re­main­der of his se­cond term, re­main­ing a cham­pion of lib­eral pol­icy as well as a foe of abor­tion rights.

Prob­a­bly no politi­cian to­day ei­ther in Penn­syl­va­nia or the na­tion could em­u­late his po­lit­i­cal high-wire act sup­port­ing his seem­ingly dis­cor­dant po­lit­i­cal views while re­main­ing a pop­u­lar, in­deed leg­endary, fig­ure in state pol­i­tics.

Casey died in 2000 but the legacy of Planned Par­ent­hood vs. Casey con­tin­ues along with Roe v Wade as a defin­ing law of the land on abor­tion. And like Roe v. Wade, it now hov­ers por­ten­tously over na­tional pol­i­tics decades af­ter the orig­i­nal de­ci­sion.

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