Maher, Commissioner of Social Services v. Roe ; 432 U.S. 464 1977


FACTS : Under the Connecticut statute, for a patient to have an abortion in the first three months of pregnancy (first trimester) paid for with public funds (Medicaid), the medical facility must submit a certificate from the patient’s physician stating that the abortion is medically necessary. The two persons involved in this case were unable to obtain certification and brought this suit in federal district court claiming violation of the due process and equal protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. The district court held that the Fourteenth Amendment forbids exclusion of nontherapeutic abortions from a state welfare program that covers medical expenses that are part of pregnancy and childbirth.

ISSUES : Does a Connecticut statute prohibiting the use of Medicaid funds in payment of abortions that are not medically necessary violate the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment?

ARGUMENTS : Maher, the commissioner of social services of Connecticut, argued that the Connecticut statute did not violate the equal protection and due process clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. Susan Roe argued that the Connecticut statute violated the equal protection and due process clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. Roe argued that Connecticut must treat abortion and childbirth equally.

DECISION: States are not required by the Constitution to fund abortions, whether or not medically necessary. There is no explicit right to health care.

Justice Powell delivered the opinion: A state is under no obligation to provide medical care, but when it does, it is subject to constitutional limits. The fact that the impact of the regulation falls on the poor does not unduly burden such a person, because Connecticut funds childbirth. The woman’s position remains the same. Justice Brennan wrote a dissent saying that the majority is allowing states to interfere indirectly with the privacy right, thereby protecting the rich but not the poor.

SIGNIFICANCE : This decision has a significant impact on those who rely on public health care and want to get reimbursed for abortions, while financing people who carry their pregnancies to term at a higher cost. This case demonstrates how the concept of medical privacy has evolved. Several other states also have restricted the use of public funds for elective abortions.

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