Harris v. McRae

448 U.S. 297
Brief Filed: 7/80
Court: Supreme Court of the United States
Year of Decision: 1980

Read the full-text amicus brief (PDF, 1.27MB)


Whether (1) states participating in the Medicaid program were required to pay for medically necessary abortions, and (2) the Hyde Amendment denying federal reimbursement for such abortions was unconstitutional

Index Topic

Abortion (abortion rights; Medicaid funding)


Plaintiffs representing indigent pregnant women argued that the provisions of the Social Security Act governing the Medicaid program required a state participating in the program to pay for medically necessary abortions for which federal reimbursement was unavailable under the "Hyde Amendment." Alternatively, plaintiffs argued that the "Hyde Amendment" violated the liberty or equal protection provisions of the Due Process Clause in denying public funding for medically necessary abortions. Ultimately the district court granted injunctive relief holding that the Hyde Amendment had substantially amended Title XIX to relieve a state of any obligation to fund medically necessary abortions for which federal reimbursement is unavailable, but that the amendment violated the equal protection component of the Fifth Amendment's Due Process Clause and the First Amendment's Free Exercise Clause. The Secretary of Health and Human Services appealed. The U.S. Supreme Court reversed and remanded. As to the constitutional issues, the Court found that (1) while the liberty guarantee protects against unwarranted government interference with freedom of choice in the context of certain personal decisions, it does not "confer an entitlement to such funds as may be necessary to realize all advantages of that freedom," and (2) because poverty, standing alone, is not a suspect classification, the lower court erred in finding an abuse of equal protection under a higher level of judicial scrutiny. Rather, the Amendment was constitutional. By encouraging childbirth except in the most urgent circumstances, it was rationally related to the legitimate government objective of protecting potential life.

APA's Position

APA joined a large number of co-amici in a petition for rehearing, arguing that the decision of the majority: (1) was inconsistent with the Constitution's recognition that public assistance programs create an entitlement to impartial treatment; (2) approved a double standard; and (3) ignored certain constitutional principles.


The petition for rehearing was denied.