What kind of restrictions on abortion has the Supreme Court allowed?

The Court has permitted parental consent or notification laws, which now apply in more than half the states. Minors who do not want to tell their parents or seek the permission of a judge are forced to travel long distances to retain their privacy when having an abortion. Worse, some minors resort to dangerous illegal abortions. States are also allowed to require waiting periods between a mandatory visit to a counselor and actually having an abortion, and may require counseling that is, in fact, intended to dissuade a woman from abortion.

Why are the federal appeals courts so important to the survival of Roe?

The federal appeals courts, or circuit courts of appeal, are organized by region and have the final say in their respective regions unless their decisions are reviewed and overturned by the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court reviews very few cases each year, so it is likely that some appeals (circuit) court abortion decisions will be the last word, at least for the states covered by the circuit court making the decision. For example, in February 2001, the Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal of a decision by the conservative 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, VA, upholding a South Carolina regulation that imposes a variety of restrictions on first trimester abortions (Greenville Women's Clinic v. Bryant). The restrictions range from permitting the state to copy and remove patient records to requiring testing for sexually transmitted diseases and mandating structural and administrative requirements for abortion providers that are not required of other health care facilities. Because the Supreme Court refused to hear this case, these provisions are now legal in South Carolina, and could also be enacted in the other states covered by the 4th Circuit -- Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, and North Carolina -- although the case is being appealed on other grounds.

What would happen if Roe were overturned?

Without Roe, there would be no protection for a woman's right to choose. The availability of abortion could revert to pre-Roe status, with abortion available in only three states -- only one of which (New York) is in the contiguous 48 states. Or if a "right to life" interpretation prevailed, all abortions could be outlawed. Many observers believe an outright overturning of Roe is unlikely. Instead, a conservative Court might continue to allow states to enact more and more restrictions, eliminating the right to an abortion based on truly private decision-making.

Note: Some information based on Center for Reproductive Law and Policy report: Privacy Law and the U.S. Supreme Court: Before and After Roe v. Wade; Issued January 7, 1998; Updated June 2000