Bowen v. Kendrick

487 U.S. 589
Brief Filed: 2/88
Court: Supreme Court of the United States
Year of Decision: 1988

Read the full-text amicus brief (PDF, 241KB)


Whether the 1981 Adolescent Family Life Act (AFLA) was constitutional, including whether it violated the constitutional rights of individuals to make informed reproductive decisions free of government coercion

Index Topic

Abortion (mandatory counseling; adolescent abortion)


The United States District Court for the District of Columbia struck down the 1981 Adolescent Family Life Act as a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The AFLA authorized grants of federal funds for teen pregnancy prevention and care programs to demonstration projects which agreed to involve religious and charitable organizations in efforts to promote self-discipline and other prudent approaches to the problem of adolescent premarital sexual relations, including adolescent pregnancy. In the District Court, the plaintiffs were able to show that much of the money distributed under the Act was used for the teaching of family life and sex education classes at churches and parochial schools. In the appeal to the Supreme Court, Secretary Bowen of Health and Human Services challenged the District Court's finding that, notwithstanding the ALFA's secular purpose, it had the primary effect of advancing religion and fostered an excessive entanglement between government and religion. The Court's finding was based on numerous factors, including the AFLA's requirement of religious involvement in the grantees' programs, the direct funding of certain religious groups under the AFLA, its explicit prohibition of abortion and contraceptive counseling, its parental notification requirement in all circumstances unless it appeared that the parents might encourage abortion, and the exclusion of certain religious denominations from eligibility for funding based on their views regarding teen sexuality.

APA's position

APA joined with the American Public Health Association, Planned Parenthood, and National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association to present an amicus brief arguing that: (1) the AFLA impermissibly interfered with an adolescent's constitutional right to make informed reproductive decisions; (2) the AFLA compelled grantees to provide distorted information in violation of a woman's fundamental constitutional right to make an informed reproductive choice free of government coercion; (3) the AFLA both intruded on the discretion of health professionals and distorted information given to pregnant adolescents in order to deter them from choosing abortion; (4) the distorted counseling required by the AFLA interfered with an adolescent's right to make reproductive choices; (5) the government could not demonstrate that the AFLA served any interest sufficient to justify its interference with a fundamental right; (6) the AFLA discriminated among religions by requiring the involvement of religious organizations that do not advocate, promote or encourage abortion and therefore, AFLA was subject to strict scrutiny under the Establishment Clause which was not met because the AFLA was not narrowly tailored to further a compelling government interest; and (7) the AFLA's restriction on advocating, promoting or encouraging abortion discriminated on the basis of viewpoint in violation of the First Amendment.


The U.S. Supreme Court held that the AFLA did not have the primary purpose of advancing religion and would not lead to excessive government entanglement with religion. The case was, however, remanded to District Court to determine whether the AFLA violated the Establishment Clause as applied to this individual case.