432 U.S. 464 (1977), 75-1440, Maher v. Roe

Docket Nº:No. 75-1440
Citation:432 U.S. 464, 97 S.Ct. 2376, 53 L.Ed.2d 484
Party Name:Maher v. Roe
Case Date:June 20, 1977
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 464

432 U.S. 464 (1977)

97 S.Ct. 2376, 53 L.Ed.2d 484

Maher

v.

Roe

No. 75-1440

United States Supreme Court

June 20, 1977

Argued January 11, 1977

APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT

FOR THE DISTRICT OF CONNECTICUT

Syllabus

Appellees, two indigent women who were unable to obtain a physician's certificate of medical necessity, brought this action attacking the validity of a Connecticut Welfare Department regulation that limits state Medicaid benefits for first trimester abortions to those that are "medically necessary." A three-judge District Court held that the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment forbids the exclusion of nontherapeutic abortions from a state welfare program that generally subsidizes the medical expenses incident to pregnancy and childbirth. The court found implicit in Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113, and Doe v. Bolton, 410 U.S. 179, the view that "abortion and childbirth . . . are simply two alternative medical methods of dealing with pregnancy. . . ."

Held:

1. The Equal Protection Clause does not require a State participating in the Medicaid program to pay the expenses incident to nontherapeutic abortions for indigent women simply because it has made a policy choice to pay expenses incident to childbirth. Pp. 469-480.

(a) Financial need alone does not identify a suspect class for purposes of equal protection analysis. See San Antonio School Dist. v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 1, 29; Dandridge v. Williams, 397 U.S. 471. Pp. 470-471.

(b) The Connecticut regulation does not impinge upon the fundamental right of privacy recognized in Roe, supra, that protects a woman from unduly burdensome interference with her freedom to decide whether or not to terminate her pregnancy. That right implies no limitation on a State's authority to make a value judgment favoring childbirth over abortion and to implement that judgment by the allocation of public funds. An indigent woman desiring an abortion is not disadvantaged by Connecticut's decision to fund childbirth; she continues as before to be dependent on private abortion services. Pp. 471-474.

(c) A State is not required to show a compelling interest for its policy choice to favor normal childbirth. Pp. 475-477.

(d) Connecticut's regulation is rationally related to and furthers its "strong and legitimate interest in encouraging normal childbirth,"

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Beal v. Doe, ante at 446. The subsidizing of costs incident to childbirth is a rational means of encouraging childbirth. States, moreover, have a wide latitude in choosing among competing demands for limited public funds. Pp. 478-480.

2. Since it is not unreasonable for a State to insist upon a prior showing of medical necessity to insure that its money is being spent only for authorized purposes, the District Court erred in invalidating the requirements of prior written request by the pregnant woman and prior authorization by the Department of Social Services for abortions. Although similar requirements are not imposed for other medical procedures, such procedures do not involve the termination of a potential human life. P. 480.

408 F.Supp. 660, reversed and remanded.

POWELL, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and STEWART, WHITE, REHNQUIST, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. BURGER, C.J., filed a concurring statement, post, p. 481. BRENNAN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which MARSHALL and BLACKMUN, JJ., joined, post, p. 482. MARSHALL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, ante, p. 454. BLACKMUN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN and MARSHALL, JJ., joined, ante, p. 462.

POWELL, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE POWELL delivered the opinion of the Court.

In Beal v. Doe, ante, p. 438, we hold today that Title XIX of the Social Security Act does not require the funding of nontherapeutic abortions as a condition of participation in the

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joint federal-state Medicaid program established by that statute. In this case, as a result of our decision in Beal, we must decide whether the Constitution requires a participating State to pay for nontherapeutic abortions when it pays for childbirth.

I

A regulation of the Connecticut Welfare Department limits state Medicaid benefits for first trimester abortions1 to those that are "medically necessary," a term defined to include psychiatric necessity. Connecticut Welfare Department, Public Assistance Program Manual, Vol. 3, c. III, § 275 (1975).2 Connecticut enforces this limitation through a system of prior authorization from its [97 S.Ct. 2379] Department of Social Services. In order to obtain authorization for a first trimester abortion, the hospital or clinic where the abortion is to be performed must submit, among other things, a certificate from the patient's attending physician stating that the abortion is medically necessary.

This attack on the validity of the Connecticut regulation

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was brought against appellant Maher, the Commissioner of Social Services, by appellees Poe and Roe, two indigent women who were unable to obtain a physician's certificate of medical necessity.3 In a complaint filed in the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut, they challenged the regulation both as inconsistent with the requirements of Title XIX of the Social Security Act, as added, 79 Stat. 343, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 1396 et seq. (1970 ed. and Supp. V), and as violative of their constitutional rights, including the Fourteenth Amendment's guarantees of due process and equal protection. Connecticut originally defended its regulation on the theory that Title XIX of the Social Security Act prohibited the funding of abortions that were not medically necessary. After certifying a class of women unable to obtain Medicaid assistance for abortions because of the regulation, the District Court held that the Social Security Act not only allowed state funding of nontherapeutic abortions, but also required it. Roe v. Norton, 380 F.Supp. 726 (1974). On appeal, the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit read the Social Security Act to allow, but not to require, state funding of such abortions. 522 F.2d 928 (1975). Upon remand for consideration of the constitutional issues raised in the complaint, a three-judge District Court was convened. That court invalidated the Connecticut regulation. 408 F.Supp. 660 (1975).

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Although it found no independent constitutional right to a state-financed abortion, the District Court held that the Equal Protection Clause forbids the exclusion of nontherapeutic abortions from a state welfare program that generally subsidizes the medical expenses incident to pregnancy and childbirth. The court found implicit in Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973), and Doe v. Bolton, 410 U.S. 179 (1973), the view that

abortion and childbirth, when stripped of the sensitive moral arguments surrounding the abortion controversy, are simply two alternative medical methods of dealing with pregnancy. . . .

408 F.Supp. at 663 n. 3. Relying also on Shapiro v. Thompson, 394 U.S. 618 (1969), and Memorial Hospital v. Maricopa County, 415 U.S. 250 (1974), the court held that the Connecticut program "weights the choice of the pregnant mother against choosing to exercise her constitutionally protected right" to a nontherapeutic abortion, and "thus infringes upon a fundamental interest." 408 F.Supp. at 663-664. The court found no state interest to justify this infringement. The State's fiscal interest was held to be "wholly chimerical because abortion is the least expensive medical response to a pregnancy." Id. at 664 (footnote omitted). And any moral objection to abortion was deemed constitutionally irrelevant:

The state may not justify its refusal to pay for one type of expense arising from [97 S.Ct. 2380] pregnancy on the basis that it morally opposes such an expenditure of money. To sanction such a justification would be to permit discrimination against those seeking to exercise a constitutional right on the basis that the state simply does not approve of the exercise of that right.

Ibid.

The District Court enjoined the State from requiring the certificate of medical necessity for Medicaid-funded abortions.4

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The court also struck down the related requirements of prior written request by the pregnant woman and prior authorization by the Department of Social Services holding that the State could not impose any requirements on Medicaid payments for abortions that are not

equally applicable to medicaid payments for childbirth, if such conditions or requirements tend to discourage a woman from choosing an abortion or to delay the occurrence of an abortion that she has asked her physician to perform.

Id. at 665. We noted probable jurisdiction to consider the constitutionality of the Connecticut regulation. 428 U.S. 908 (1976).

II

The Constitution imposes no obligation on the States to pay the pregnancy-related medical expenses of indigent women, or indeed to pay any of the medical expenses of indigents.5 But when a State decides to alleviate some of the

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hardships of poverty by providing medical care, the manner in which it dispenses benefits is subject to constitutional limitations. Appellees' claim is that Connecticut must accord equal treatment to both abortion and childbirth, and may not evidence a policy preference by funding only the medical expenses incident to childbirth. This challenge to the classifications established by the Connecticut regulation presents a question arising under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The basic framework of analysis of such a claim is well settled:

We must decide, first, whether [state legislation] operates to the disadvantage of some suspect class or impinges upon a fundamental right explicitly or implicitly protected by the Constitution, thereby requiring [97 S.Ct. 2381] strict judicial scrutiny. . . . If not, the [legislative] scheme must...

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