HARRIS V. MCRAE, 448 U. S. 297 (1980)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Harris v. McRae, 448 U.S. 297 (1980)

Harris v. McRae

No. 79-1268

Argued April 21, 1980

Decided June 30, 1980

448 U.S. 297


Title XIX of the Social Security Act established the Medicaid program in 1965 to provide federal financial assistance to States that choose to reimburse certain costs of medical treatment for needy persons. Since 1976, versions of the so-called Hyde Amendment have severely limited the use of any federal funds to reimburse the cost of abortions under the Medicaid program. Actions were brought in Federal District Court by appellees (including indigent pregnant women, who sued on behalf of all women similarly situated, the New York City Health and Hospitals Corp., which operates hospitals providing abortion services, officers of the Women's Division of the Board of Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church (Women's Division), and the Women's Division itself), seeking to enjoin enforcement of the Hyde Amendment on grounds that it violates, inter alia, the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment and the Religion Clauses of the First Amendment, and that, despite the Hyde Amendment, a participating State remains obligated under Title XIX to fund all medically necessary abortions. Ultimately, the District Court, granting injunctive relief, held that the Hyde Amendment had substantively amended Title XIX to relieve a State of any obligation to fund those medically necessary abortions for which federal reimbursement is unavailable, but that the Amendment violates the equal protection component of the Fifth Amendment's Due Process Clause and the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment.


1. Title XIX does not require a participating State to pay for those medically necessary abortions for which federal reimbursement is unavailable under the Hyde Amendment. Pp. 448 U. S. 306-311.

(a) The cornerstone of Medicaid is financial contribution by both the Federal Government and the participating State. Nothing in Title XIX as originally enacted or in its legislative history suggests that Congress intended to require a participating State to assume the full costs of providing any health services in its Medicaid plan. To the contrary, Congress' purpose in enacting Title XIX was to provide federal financial

Page 448 U. S. 298

assistance for all legitimate state expenditures under an approved Medicaid plan. Pp. 448 U. S. 308-309.

(b) Nor does the Hyde Amendment's legislative history contain any indication that Congress intended to shift the entire cost of some medically necessary abortions to the participating States, but rather suggests that Congress has always assumed that a participating State would not be required to fund such abortions once federal funding was withdrawn pursuant to the Hyde Amendment. Pp. 448 U. S. 310-311.

2. The funding restrictions of the Hyde Amendment do not impinge on the "liberty" protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment held in Roe v. Wade, 410 U. S. 113, 410 U. S. 168, to include the freedom of a woman to decide whether to terminate a pregnancy. Pp. 448 U. S. 312-318.

(a) The Hyde Amendment places no governmental obstacle in the path of a woman who chooses to terminate her pregnancy, but rather, by means of unequal subsidization of abortion and other medical services, encourages alternative activity deemed in the public interest. Cf. Maher v. Roe, 432 U. S. 464. P. 448 U. S. 315.

(b) Regardless of whether the freedom of a woman to choose to terminate her pregnancy for health reasons lies at the core or the periphery of the due process liberty recognized in Wade, supra, it does not follow that a woman's freedom of choice carries with it a constitutional entitlement to the financial resources to avail herself of the full range of protected choices. Although government may not place obstacles in the path of a woman's exercise of her freedom of choice, it need not remove those not of its own creation, and indigency falls within the latter category. Although Congress has opted to subsidize medically necessary services generally, but not certain medically necessary abortions, the fact remains that the Hyde Amendment leaves an indigent woman with at least the same range of choice in deciding whether to obtain a medically necessary abortion as she would have had if Congress had chosen to subsidize no health care costs at all. Pp. 448 U. S. 316-317.

(c) To translate the limitation on governmental power implicit in the Due Process Clause into an affirmative funding obligation would require Congress to subsidize the medically necessary abortion of an indigent woman even if Congress had not enacted a Medicaid program to subsidize other medically necessary services. Nothing in the Due Process Clause supports such an extraordinary result. Pp. 448 U. S. 317-318.

3. Nor does the Hyde Amendment violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The fact that the funding restrictions in the Hyde Amendment may coincide with the religious tenets of the Roman

Page 448 U. S. 299

Catholic Church does not, without more, contravene that Clause. Pp. 448 U. S. 319-320

4. Appellees lack standing to raise a challenge to the Hyde Amendment under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. The named appellees consisting of indigent pregnant women suing on behalf of other women similarly situated lack such standing because none alleged, much less proved, that she sought an abortion under compulsion of religious belief. The named appellees consisting of officers of the Women's Division, although they provided a detailed description of their religious beliefs, failed to allege either that they are or expect to be pregnant or that they are eligible to receive Medicaid, and they therefore lacked the personal stake in the controversy needed to confer standing to raise such a challenge to the Hyde Amendment. And the Women's Division does not satisfy the standing requirements for an organization to assert the rights of its membership, since the asserted claim is one that required participation of the individual members for a proper understanding and resolution of their free exercise claims. Pp. 448 U. S. 320-321.

5. The Hyde Amendment does not violate the equal protection component of the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment. Pp. 448 U. S. 321-326.

(a) While the presumption of constitutional validity of a statutory classification that does not itself impinge on a right or liberty protected by the Constitution disappears if the classification is predicated on criteria that are "suspect," the Hyde Amendment is not predicated on a constitutionally suspect classification. Maher v. Roe, supra. Although the impact of the Amendment falls on the indigent, that fact does not itself render the funding restrictions constitutionally invalid, for poverty, standing alone, is not a suspect classification. Pp. 448 U. S. 322-323.

(b) Where, as here, Congress has neither invaded a substantive constitutional right or freedom nor enacted legislation that purposefully operates to the detriment of a suspect class, the only requirement of equal protection is that congressional action be rationally related to a legitimate governmental interest. The Hyde Amendment satisfies that standard, since, by encouraging childbirth except in the most urgent circumstances, it is rationally related to the legitimate governmental objective of protecting potential life. Pp. 448 U. S. 324-326.

491 F.Supp. 630, reversed and remanded.

STEWART, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J.,and WHITE, POWELL, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. WHITE, J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 448 U. S. 327. BRENNAN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which MARSHALL and BLACKMUN, JJ., joined, post, p. 448 U. S. 329. MARSHALL,

Page 448 U. S. 300

J., post, p. 448 U. S. 337, BLACKMUN, J., post, p. 448 U. S. 348, and STEVENS, J., post, p. 448 U. S. 349, filed dissenting opinions.

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