With support from the University of Richmond

History News Network

History News Network puts current events into historical perspective. Subscribe to our newsletter for new perspectives on the ways history continues to resonate in the present. Explore our archive of thousands of original op-eds and curated stories from around the web. Join us to learn more about the past, now.

Abortion Case From 1991 May Be Central in Confirmation

The 1991 abortion case on which the confirmation of Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr. to the Supreme Court may hinge arrived at his Philadelphia-based federal appeals court at a moment of great ferment in the development of abortion law.

The Supreme Court's 7-to-2 majority for abortion rights, as expressed in the 1973 Roe v. Wade opinion, had eroded to the vanishing point. The center of gravity was held by Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, whose position was difficult to parse and appeared to be evolving toward an uncertain destination.

The question facing Judge Alito and his colleagues on a three-judge appellate panel was the validity of a 1989 Pennsylvania law that placed various obstacles in the path of women seeking abortions.

All three judges agreed that most of the provisions were constitutional, as the Supreme Court itself eventually did. But on one important point, a requirement that a married woman notify her husband before obtaining an abortion, Judge Alito found himself at odds with his two colleagues, and ultimately with the Supreme Court's ruling, which sparked a debate on the high court that remains unresolved today.

Read entire article at NYT