450 U.S. 398 (1981), 79-5903, H. L. v. Matheson,

Docket Nº:No. 79-5903
Citation:450 U.S. 398, 101 S.Ct. 1164, 67 L.Ed.2d 388
Party Name:H. L. v. Matheson,
Case Date:March 23, 1981
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 398

450 U.S. 398 (1981)

101 S.Ct. 1164, 67 L.Ed.2d 388

H. L.

v.

Matheson,

No. 79-5903

United States Supreme Court

March 23, 1981

Argued October 6, 1980

APPEAL FROM THE SUPREME COURT OF UTAH

Syllabus

A Utah statute requires a physician to "[n]otify, if possible," the parents or guardian of a minor upon whom an abortion is to be performed. Appellant, while an unmarried minor living with and dependent on her parents, became pregnant. A physician advised her that an abortion would be in her best medical interest but, because of the statute, refused to perform the abortion without first notifying her parents. Believing that she should proceed with the abortion without notifying her parents, appellant instituted a suit in state court seeking a declaration that the statute is unconstitutional and an injunction against its enforcement. She sought to represent a class consisting of unmarried minors "who are suffering [101 S.Ct. 1166] unwanted pregnancies and desire to terminate the pregnancies but may not do so" because of their physicians' insistence on complying with the statute. The trial court upheld the statute as not unconstitutionally restricting a minor's right of privacy to obtain an abortion or to enter into a doctor-patient relationship. The Utah Supreme Court affirmed.

Held:

1. Since appellant did not allege or offer evidence that either she or any member of her class is mature or emancipated, she lacks standing to challenge the Utah statute as being unconstitutional on its face on the ground of overbreadth in that it could be construed to apply to all unmarried minor girls, including those who are mature and emancipated. Harris v. McRae, 448 U.S. 297. Moreover, the State is bound by a ruling in another case that the statute does not apply to emancipated minors, and the Utah Supreme Court has had no occasion to consider the statute's application to mature minors. Pp. 405-407.

2. As applied to an unemancipated minor girl living with and dependent upon her parents, and making no claim or showing as to maturity or as to her relations with her parents, the Utah statute serves important state interests, is narrowly drawn to protect only those interests, and does not violate any guarantees of the Constitution. Pp. 407-413.

(a) Although a state may not constitutionally legislate a blanket, unreviewable power of parents to veto their daughter's abortion, Bellotti v. Baird, 443 U.S. 622; Planned Parenthood of Central Mo. v. Danforth, 428 U.S. 52, a statute getting out a mere requirement of parental notice when possible does not violate the constitutional rights of an immature, dependent minor. Pp. 407-410.

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(b) The Utah statute does not give parents a veto power over the minor's abortion decision. As applied to immature and dependent minors, the statute serves important considerations of family integrity and protecting adolescents, as well as providing an opportunity for parents to supply essential medical and other information to the physician. The statute is not unconstitutional for failing to specify what information parents may furnish to physicians, or to provide for a mandatory period of delay after the physician notifies the parents; or because the State allows a pregnant minor to consent to other medical procedures without formal notice to her parents if she carries the child to term; or because the notice requirement may inhibit some minors from seeking abortions. Pp. 411-413.

604 P.2d 907, affirmed.

BURGER, C.J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which STEWART, WHITE, POWELL, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. POWELL, J., filed a concurring opinion, in which STWART, J., joined, post, p. 413. STEVENS, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, post, p. 420. MARSHALL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN and BLACKMUN, JJ., joined, post, p. 425.

BURGER, J., lead opinion

CHIEF JUSTICE BURGER delivered the opinion of the Court.

The question presented in this case is whether a state statute which requires a physician to "[n]otify, if possible,"

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the parents of a dependent, unmarried minor girl prior to performing an abortion on the girl violates federal constitutional guarantees.

I

In the spring of 1978, appellant was an unmarried 15-year-old girl living with her parents in Utah and dependent on them for her support. She discovered she was pregnant. She consulted with a social worker and a physician. The physician advised appellant that an abortion would be in her best medical interest. However, because of Utah Code Ann. § 76-7-304 (1978), he refused to perform the abortion without first notifying appellant's parents.

Section 76-7-304, enacted in 1974, provides:

To enable the physician to exercise his best medical judgment [in considering a possible abortion], he shall:

[101 S.Ct. 1167]

(1) Consider all factors relevant to the wellbeing of the woman upon whom the abortion is to be performed including, but not limited to,

(a) Her physical, emotional and psychological health and safety,

(b) Her age,

(c) Her familial situation.

(2) Notify, if possible, the parents or guardian of the woman upon whom the abortion is to be performed, if she is a minor or the husband of the woman, if she is married.

(Emphasis supplied.)1

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Violation of this section is a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment for not more than one year or a fine of not more than $1,000.2

Appellant believed "for [her] own reasons" that she should proceed with the abortion without notifying her parents. According to appellant, the social worker concurred in this decision.3 While still in the first trimester of her pregnancy, appellant instituted this action in the Third Judicial District Court of Utah.4 She sought a declaration that § 77-304(2) is unconstitutional and an injunction prohibiting appellees, the Governor and the Attorney General of Utah, from enforcing the statute. Appellant sought to represent a class consisting of unmarried "minor women who are suffering unwanted pregnancies and desire to terminate the pregnancies but may not do so" because of their physicians' insistence on complying with § 76-7-304(2). The trial judge declined to grant a temporary restraining order or a preliminary injunction.5

The trial judge held a hearing at which appellant was the only witness. Appellant affirmed the allegations of the complaint by giving monosyllabic answers to her attorney's

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leading questions.6 However, when [101 S.Ct. 1168] the State attempted to cross-examine appellant about her reasons for not wishing to notify her parents, appellant's counsel vigorously objected,7

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insisting that "the specifics of the reasons are really irrelevant to the Constitutional issue."8 The only constitutionally permissible prerequisites for performance of al abortion, he insisted, were the desire of the girl and the medical

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approval of a physician.9 The trial judge sustained the objection, tentatively construing the statute to require appellant's physician to notify her parents "if he is able to physically contact them."

Thereafter, the trial judge entered findings of fact and conclusions of law. He concluded that appellant "is an appropriate representative to represent the class she purports to represent."10 He construed the statute to require notice to appellant's parents "if it is physically possible." He concluded that § 76-7-304(2) "do[es] not unconstitutionally restrict the right of privacy of a minor to obtain an abortion or to enter into a doctor-patient relationship."11 Accordingly, he dismissed the complaint.

On appeal, the Supreme Court of Utah unanimously upheld the statute. 604 P.2d 907 (1979). Relying on our decisions in Planned Parenthood of Central Mo. v. Danforth, 428 U.S. 52 (1976), Carey v. Population Services International, 431 U.S. 678 (1977), and Bellotti v. Baird, 443 U.S. 622 (1979) (Bellotti II), the court concluded that the statute serves "significant state interest[s] " that are present with respect to minors but absent in the case of adult women.

The court looked first to subsection (1) of § 77-304. This provision, the court observed, expressly incorporates the factors we identified in Doe v. Bolton, 410 U.S. 179 (1973), [101 S.Ct. 1169] as pertinent to exercise of a physician's best medical judgment in making an abortion decision. In Doe, we stated:

We agree with the District Court . . . that the medical judgment may be exercised in the light of all factors -- physical, emotional, psychological, familial, and the woman's

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age -- relevant to the wellbeing of the patient. All these factors may relate to health. This allows the attending physician the room he needs to make his best medical judgment.

Id. at 192 (emphasis supplied). Section 76-7-304 (1) of the Utah statute suggests that the legislature sought to reflect the language of Doe.

The Utah Supreme Court held that notifying the parents of a minor seeking an abortion is "substantially and logically related" to the Doe factors set out in § 76-7-304 (1) because parents ordinarily possess information essential to a physician's exercise of his best medical judgment concerning the child. 604 P.2d at 909-910. The court also concluded that encouraging an unmarried pregnant minor to seek the advice of her parents in making the decision of whether to carry her child to term promotes a significant state interest in supporting the important role of parents in childrearing. Id. at 912. The court reasoned that, since the statute allows no veto power over the minor's decision, it does not unduly intrude upon a minor's rights.

The Utah Supreme Court also rejected appellant's argument that the phrase "if possible" in § 76-7-304(2) should be construed to give the physician discretion whether to notify appellant's parents. The court concluded that the physician is required to notify parents

if, under the circumstances, in...

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