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Rust v. Sullivan


RUST V. SULLIVAN (111 Supreme Court 1759 [1991]). Congress enacted a law in 1970 that supported family-planning services by making available federal funds under Title X but forbade the use of those funds for abortions. Over a fifteen-year period, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) regulated use of the funds under the law and, in 1986, tightened regulations in an attempt to limit the ability of clinics to provide information about abortions. Two years later, with the strong support of President George H. W. Bush, HHS imposed a gag rule upon clinics and their physicians prohibiting references to abortion in family-planning programs.

The first issue in Rust was whether the 1970 law could be construed to allow the gag rule, although Congress had not granted federal authorities such power. The second was whether the regulations that imposed the rule violated freedom of expression guaranteed by the First Amendment and the due process of law protected by the Fifth Amendment. On both issues, the Supreme Court decided in favor of the government. Conceding that the intent of Congress was ambiguous, the Court nonetheless held that it should defer to the judgment of those charged with applying the law. Also, regarding the second issue, the Court found that discussion of abortions could occur outside the federal program, and thus there was no violation of either the First or Fifth Amendments. Rust affected 4,500 facilities serving nearly 4 million women and raised the question of whether the government could impose free-speech restrictions on other institutions receiving Title X funds. It marked a further limiting of a woman's right to an abortion since the Court's landmark decision of Roe v. Wade (1973).

The impact of the decision was lessened when President Bill Clinton's administration lifted the gag rule in 1993. The gag rule issue resurfaced during the political campaigns of 1994 and 1996. In 1999 Congressional Republicans linked repayment of the United Nations membership fee to a "global gag rule," banning the mention of abortion in international family planning literature.


Garrow, David. Liberty and Sexuality: The Right to Privacy and the Making of Roe v. Wade. New York: Macmillan, 1994.

TonyFreyer/a. r.

See alsoAbortion ; Family ; Health and Human Services, Department of ; Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey ; Pro-Choice Movement ; Pro-Life Movement ; Webster v. Reproductive Health Services ; Women's Health .

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