443 U.S. 622 (1979), 78-329, Bellotti v. Baird

Docket Nº:No. 78-329
Citation:443 U.S. 622, 99 S.Ct. 3035, 61 L.Ed.2d 797
Party Name:Bellotti v. Baird
Case Date:July 02, 1979
Court:United States Supreme Court

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443 U.S. 622 (1979)

99 S.Ct. 3035, 61 L.Ed.2d 797




No. 78-329

United States Supreme Court

July 2, 1979

Argued February 27, 1979




A Massachusetts statute requires parental consent before an abortion can be performed on an unmarried woman under the age of 18. If one or both parents refuse such consent, however, the abortion may be obtained by order of a judge of the superior court "for good cause shown." In appellees' class action challenging the constitutionality of the statute, a three-judge District Court held it unconstitutional. Subsequently, this Court vacated the District Court's judgment, Bellotti v. Baird, 428 U.S. 132, holding that the District Court should have abstained and certified to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court appropriate questions concerning the meaning of the statute. On remand, the District Court certified several questions to the Supreme Judicial Court. Among the questions certified was whether the statute permits any minors -- mature or immature -- to obtain judicial consent to an abortion without any parental consultation whatsoever. The Supreme Judicial Court answered that, in general, it does not; that consent must be obtained for every nonemergency abortion unless no parent is available; and that an available parent must be given notice of any judicial proceedings brought by a minor to obtain consent for an abortion. Another question certified was whether, if the superior court finds that the minor is capable of making, and has, in fact, made and adhered to, an informed and reasonable decision to have an abortion, the court may refuse its consent on a finding that a parent's, or its own, contrary decision is a better one. The Supreme Judicial Court answered in the affirmative. Following the Supreme Judicial Court's judgment, the District Court again declared the statute unconstitutional and enjoined its enforcement.

Held: The judgment is affirmed. Pp. 633-651; 652-656.

450 F.Supp. 997, affirmed.


1. There are three reasons justifying the conclusion that the constitutional

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rights of children cannot be equated with those of adults: the peculiar vulnerability of children; their inability to make critical decisions in an informed, mature manner; and the importance of the guiding role of parents in the upbringing of their children. Pp. 633-639.

2. The abortion decision differs in important ways from other decisions facing minors, and the State is required to act with particular sensitivity when it legislates to foster parental involvement in this matter. Pp. 639-642.

3. If a State decides to require a pregnant minor to obtain one or both parents' consent to an abortion, it also must provide an alternative procedure whereby authorization for the abortion can be obtained. A pregnant minor is entitled in such a proceeding to show either that she is mature enough and well enough informed to make her abortion decision, in consultation with her physician, independently of her parents' wishes, or that, even if she is not able to make this decision independently, the desired abortion would be in her best interests. Such a procedure must ensure that the provision requiring parental consent does not, in fact, amount to an impermissible "absolute, and possibly arbitrary, veto." Planned Parenthood of Central Missouri v. Danforth, 428 U.S. 52, 74. Pp. 642-644.

4. The Massachusetts statute, as authoritatively interpreted by the Supreme Judicial Court, unduly burdens the right to seek an abortion. The statute falls short of constitutional standards in two respects. First, it permits judicial authorization for an abortion to be withheld from a minor who is found by the superior court to be mature and fully competent to make this decision independently. Second, it requires parental consultation or notification in every instance, whether or not in the pregnant minor's best interests, without affording her an opportunity to receive an independent judicial determination that she is mature enough to consent or that an abortion would be in her best interests. Pp. 644-651.

MR. JUSTICE STEVENS, joined by MR. JUSTICE BRENNAN, MR. JUSTICE MARSHALL, and MR. JUSTICE BLACKMUN, concluded that the Massachusetts statute is unconstitutional because under the statute, as written and as construed by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, no minor, no matter how mature and capable of informed decisionmaking, may receive an abortion without the consent of either both parents or a superior court judge, thus making the minor's abortion decision subject in every instance to an absolute third-party veto. Planned Parenthood of Central Missouri v. Danforth, 428 U.S. 52, controlling. Pp. 652-656.

POWELL, J., announced the judgment of the Court and delivered an opinion, in which BURGER, C.J., and STEWART and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined.

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REHNQUIST, J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 651. STEVENS, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, in which BRENNAN, MARSHALL, and BLACKMUN, JJ., joined, post, p. 652. WHITE, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 656.

POWELL, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE POWELL announced the judgment of the Court and delivered an opinion, in which THE CHIEF JUSTICE, MR. JUSTICE STEWART, and MR. JUSTICE REHNQUIST joined.

These appeals present a challenge to the constitutionality of a state statute regulating the access of minors to abortions. They require us to continue the inquiry we began in Planned Parenthood of Central Missouri v. Danforth, 428 U.S. 52 (1976), and Bellotti v. Baird, 428 U.S. 132 (1976).

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On August 2, 1974, the Legislature of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts passed, over the Governor's veto, an Act pertaining to abortions performed within the State. 1974 Mass. Acts, ch. 706. According to its title, the statute was intended to regulate abortions "within present constitutional limits." Shortly before the Act was to go [99 S.Ct. 3039] into effect, the class action from which these appeals arise was commenced in the District Court1 to enjoin, as unconstitutional, the provision of the Act now codified as Mass Gen.Laws Ann., ch. 112, 12S (West Supp. 1979).2

Section 12S provides in part:

If the mother is less than eighteen years of age and has not married, the consent of both the mother and her parents [to an abortion to be performed on the mother] is required. If one or both of the mother's parents refuse such consent, consent may be obtained by order of a judge of the superior court for good cause shown, after such hearing as he deems necessary. Such a hearing will not require the appointment of a guardian for the mother. If one of the parents has died or has deserted his or her family, consent by the remaining parent is sufficient. If both parents have died or have deserted their family, consent of the mother's guardian or other

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person having duties similar to a guardian, or any person who had assumed the care and custody of the mother is sufficient. The commissioner of public health shall prescribe a written form for such consent. Such form shall be signed by the proper person or persons and given to the physician performing the abortion who shall maintain it in his permanent files.

Physicians performing abortions in the absence of the consent required by § 12S are subject to injunctions and criminal penalties. See Mass.Gen.Laws Ann., ch. 112, §§ 12Q, 12T, and 12U (West Supp. 1979).

A three-judge District Court was convened to hear the case pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2281 (1970 ed.), repealed by Pub.L. 94-381, § 1, 90 Stat. 1119.3 Plaintiffs in the suit, appellees in both the cases before us now, were William Baird; Parents Aid Society, Inc. (Parents Aid), of which Baird is founder and director; Gerald Zupnick, M.D., who regularly performs abortions at the Parents Aid clinic; and an unmarried minor, identified by the pseudonym "Mary Moe," who, at the commencement of the suit, was pregnant, residing at home with her parents, and desirous of obtaining an abortion without informing them.4

Mary Moe was permitted to represent the "class of unmarried minors in Massachusetts who have adequate capacity to give a valid and informed consent [to abortion], and who do not wish to involve their parents." Baird v. Bellotti, 393 F.Supp. 847, 850 (Mass.1975) (Baird I). Initially there was some confusion whether the rights of minors who wish abortions without parental involvement but who lack "adequate capacity" to give such consent also could be adjudicated in

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the suit. The District Court ultimately determined that Dr. Zupnick was entitled to assert the rights of these minors. See Baird v. Bellotti, 450 F.Supp. 997, 1001, and n. 6 (Mass.1978).5

Planned [99 S.Ct. 3040] Parenthood League of Massachusetts and Crittenton Hastings House & Clinic, both organizations that provide counseling to pregnant adolescents, and Phillip Stubblefield, M.D. (intervenors),6 appeared as amici curiae on behalf of the plaintiffs. The District Court "accepted [this group] in a status something more than amici because of reservations about the adequacy of plaintiffs' representation [of the plaintiff classes in the suit]." Id. at 999 n. 3.

Defendants in the suit, appellants here in No. 78-329, were the Attorney General of Massachusetts and the District Attorneys of all counties in the State. Jane Hunerwadel was permitted to intervene as a defendant and representative of the class of Massachusetts parents having unmarried minor daughters who then were, or might become, pregnant. She and the class she represents are appellants in No. 78-330.7

Following three days of testimony, the District Court issued an opinion invalidating § 12S. Baird I, supra. The...

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