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Reproductive Rights: U.S. Supreme Court Cases

Reproductive rights in America can vary significantly  from one state to the next. Each jurisdiction has its own slate of laws relating to abortion, contraception and family planning. New abortion laws are constantly being drafted across the country. The often get challenged in court.

The final arbiter on these laws is the U.S. Supreme Court. This article highlights significant cases of national prominence over the years. There are cases involving the reproductive rights of individuals, including the right to use contraception, plan a family, rear children, and gain access to reproductive healthcare. The links are to the full text of the U.S. Supreme Court decisions.

  • Pierce v. Society of Sisters (1925) - Cited in over 100 Supreme Court cases, the Court in this case found a constitutional right of parents to send their children to private schools.
  • Skinner v. Oklahoma (1942) - This decision holds that states may not impose sterilization as a penalty for a crime to weed out "unfit" individuals from the gene pool.
  • Prince v. Massachusetts (1944) - This decision established that the government has authority to regulate the actions and treatment of children - even against parental authority - according to the best interest of the child's welfare. In this case, the Court held that a mother may be prosecuted for having her children distribute religious literature.
  • Griswold v. Connecticut (1965) - The Court in this case struck down a law that prohibited married couples from using birth control and thereby found a constitutional right of married couples to use contraceptives. Read a detailed discussion of Griswold v. Connecticut.
  • Eisenstadt v. Baird (1972) - This decision established that unmarried people have the same contraception rights as married couples and may thereby engage in non-procreative sexual intercourse on the same basis.
  • Roe v. Wade (1973) - In this landmark case, the Court held that women have a constitutional right to terminate their pregnancies up to 12-weeks through abortion. After the 12-week mark, however, the Court found that states have a greater interest in regulating a woman's right to privacy in this area. Read a detailed discussion of Roe v. Wade.
  • Carey v. Population Services International (1977) - The Court expanded constitutional protections in the area of birth control by allowing makers of contraceptives more freedom to distribute and sell their products to teens. Prior to this decision, only licensed doctors and pharmacists could distribute birth control to minors.
  • Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992) - Reaffirming the essential holding in Roe v. Wade, the Court in this case held that states may regulate other aspects of abortion, such as imposing a waiting period to obtain an abortion or requiring that abortion providers explain the risks of abortion.
  • Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood (2006) - The Court refused to strike down parental notification law on its face where only a few applications of the law present a constitutional problem.
  • Gonzales v. Carhard (2007) - In a 5-4 decision, the Court upheld the federal ban on so-called "partial-birth" abortions.
  • McCullen v. Coakley (2014) - The Court struck down a Massachusetts abortion clinic "buffer zone" law that kept protesters more than 11 yards away from patients. The abortion clinic "buffer zone" effectively cut off free speech efforts on sidewalks and other public thoroughfares, the Court ruled.
  • Burwell v. Hobby Lobby (2014) - The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that requiring family-owned corporations to pay for insurance coverage for contraception under the Affordable Care Act violated a federal law protecting religious freedom. The Court ruled that a federal religious-freedom law applied only to “closely held” for-profit corporations run on religious principles.

Abortion and reproductive rights can be an emotional issue. You should consider consulting with an experienced local attorney to discuss the legalities and particulars of your case.

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