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Harris v. Mcrae 448 U.S. 297 (1980)

HARRIS v. MCRAE 448 U.S. 297 (1980)

A 5–4 Supreme Court here sustained a series of restrictions on congressional appropriations for the Medicaid program. The restrictions went beyond the law sustained in maher v. roe (1977) by refusing funding even for medically necessary abortions.

Justice potter stewart's opinion for the Court relied heavily on Maher in rejecting claims based on the substantive due process right of privacy and on the equal protection clause. A woman's right to be free from governmental interference with her decision to have an abortion did not imply a right to have government subsidize that decision. Equal protection demanded only a rational basis for the law's discrimination between therapeutic abortions and other medical necessities, and such a basis was found in the protection of potential life. Justice Stewart also rejected a claim that the law amounted to an establishment of religion. Opposition to abortion might be a tenet of some religions, but the establishment clause did not forbid governmental action merely because it coincided with religious views.

The Maher dissenters were joined in McRae by Justice john paul stevens, who had joined the Maher majority. The cases were different, he argued; here an indigent woman was denied a medically necessary abortion for lack of funds, at the same time that the government was funding other medically necessary services. roe v. wade (1973), allowing a state to forbid abortions in the later stages of pregnancy, had excepted abortions necessary to preserve pregnant women's lives or health. The government could not create exclusions from an aid program, Justice Stevens argued, solely to promote a governmental interest (preservation of potential life) that was "constitutionally subordinate to the individual interest that the entire program was designed to protect."

Kenneth L. Karst

(see also: Abortion and the Constitution; Reproductive Autonomy.)

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