Abortion is legal in Pennsylvania through 24 weeks. Thereafter, abortion is legal only if necessary to save the life of the mother.
The limits of Pennsylvania's abortion laws have been played out on the national legal stage. While most Americans have heard of Roe v. Wade, a Pennsylvania abortion law has proven equally instrumental in determining abortion restrictions in our country.
History of Abortion Laws in Pennsylvania
In 1989, Pennsylvania’s Abortion Control Act was signed into law. It was the first attempt by a state to limit abortion rights after 1973’s Roe v. Wade ruling.
The legal challenge to the Act eventually led to the landmark decision Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey in 1992. In that case, the Supreme Court upheld the basic right to abortion. However, the decision also expanded the ability of the states to enact all but the most extreme restrictions on women's access to abortion. The most common restrictions have been parental notification or consent requirements for minors and limitations on public funding.
In June 2022, the Supreme Court overruled Roe and Casey in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, which returned to the states the power to regulate, even prohibit, abortion.
Pennsylvania Abortion Restrictions
As it stands today, Pennsylvania has a long list of restrictions on abortion:
- A woman must receive state-directed counseling that includes information designed to discourage her from having an abortion, and then wait 24 hours before the procedure.
- The parent of a minor must consent before an abortion is provided.
- State health plans under the Affordable Care Act can only cover abortions when the woman's life is endangered, or which are caused by rape or incest, unless an optional rider is purchased at an additional cost.
- Abortion is covered in insurance policies for public employees only in cases of life endangerment, rape, or incest.
- Public funding is available for abortion only in cases of life endangerment, rape, or incest.
As the dust begins to settle following the Dobbs decision, this area of law is highly fluid.
Pennsylvania Abortion Laws at a Glance
The table below lists the basic provisions of Pennyslvania's abortion laws. See Abortion Laws and Abortion Rights FAQs to learn more.
||Tit. 18§§3201 to 3220
|Statutory Definition of Illegal Abortion
- Failure to obtain informed consent of woman
- Failure to meet standards for legal abortion
- Using any means to cause the death of an unborn child but not meaning use of intrauterine device or the birth control pill
- Solely for the reason of the child's sex
- Wthout making diagnosis of gestational age
- Use of public funds, facilities, or officials
|Statutory Definition of Legal Abortion
M.D. must find, in his clinical judgment, that abortion must be necessary or that a "referring M.D." has sent a written signed statement saying so.
After viability, 24 wks.: Necessary to preserve life of mother or prevent serious risk of substantial and irreversible impairment of bodily function. Viability defined as when M.D., based on facts of particular case, finds reasonable likelihood of fetus' sustained survival outside the mother's body.
|Penalty for Unlawful Abortion
- Failing to adequately care for viable fetus, M.D. violating medical consultation provisions, finding abortion necessary, violation of 2nd M.D. requirement: Felony in 3rd degree and license may be revoked
- Person inducing abortion in violation of consent standards: 1st offense: summary offense; 2nd and subsequent offenses: 3rd degree misdemeanor
- Violation of informed consent or spousal notification provisions (spousal consent found unconstitutional in Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, but remains in Pennsylvania's statue nonetheless): guilty of "unprofessional conduct" and license may be revoked
- Violation of gestational age determination requirement: 3 mos. suspension of license and if falsification of records, misdemeanor in the 3rd degree
- Except for medical emergency, physician must give information to mother at least 24 hours before abortion
- If mother under 18 years and not emancipated, both mother's and one parent/guardian's informed consent required-court may authorize M.D. to perform abortion.
- If the woman is married, she must provide signed statement that she has notified her spouse of the abortion
|Residency Requirements for Patients
|Physician Licensing Requirements
||Licensed M.D., licensed hospital or facility (hospital after 24 wks. with 2nd M.D. to aid fetus)
Note: State laws are constantly changing -- please contact a Pennsylvania family law attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.
Pennsylvania Family Laws: Related Resources
Get Legal Help with Your Abortion-Related Concerns
If you have reason to believe your rights have been violated, you should contact a qualified Pennsylvania family law attorney for guidance and (if necessary) representation.