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Maher v. Roe 432 U.S. 464 (1977)

MAHER v. ROE 432 U.S. 464 (1977)

The Supreme Court here sustained, 6–3, a Connecticut law limiting state medicaid assistance for abortions in the first trimester of pregnancy to "medically necessary" abortions (including "psychiatric necessity"), but providing such aid for childbirth. Justice lewis f. powell, for the Court, rejected both the claim that the law violated the right of privacy recognized in roe v. wade (1973) and the claim that the state's wealth discrimination violated the equal protection clause.

There was to be "no retreat from Roe," but Connecticut had placed "no obstacles … in the pregnant woman's path to an abortion." An indigent woman suffered no disadvantage from the state's funding of childbirth; she might still have an abortion if she could find the wherewithal; Connecticut had not created her indigency. Nor did the scheme deny equal protection. There was no suspect classification requiring strict scrutiny of the law; neither had the state invaded any fundamental interest by discriminating against the exercise of a constitutional right. The law satisfied the rational basis standard, for it was rationally related to promoting the state's interest in protecting potential life—an interest recognized in Roe itself.

Two companion decisions, Poelker v. Doe and Beal v. Doe, upheld a city's refusal to provide hospital services for an indigent woman's nontherapeutic abortion, and read the social security act not to require a state to aid nontherapeutic abortions in order to receive federal medicaid grants.

justices william j. brennan, thurgood marshall, and harry blackmun all filed opinions dissenting in the three cases. They emphasized the "coercive" effect on poor women of the state's financial preference for childbirth, and the particularly harsh effect of adding unwanted children to poor households.

Even before Roe, wealthy women could have abortions by traveling to other states or abroad. Roe brought abortion within the means of middleclass women. The Maher majority Justices declined to extend the effective right to have an abortion beyond the boundaries of their own socioeconomic environment.

Kenneth L. Karst

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

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