Bellotti v. Baird, 443 U.S. 622 (1979)

As soon as the ink was dry on the Supreme Court’s opinion in Roe v. Wade, many state legislatures passed laws to limit a woman’s ability to get an abortion, or to at least place hurdles in her way. Some of these laws required that a woman seeking an abortion needed the consent of her husband, or, in the case of an unmarried minor, one or both parents.

These statutes were based on the Court’s statement in Roe that states could impose ‘‘reasonable’’ regulation of the performance of abortions, given the state’s ‘‘important and legitimate interest in preserving and protecting the health of the pregnant woman.’’

One of the first Supreme Court decisions involving this type of post-Roe legislation was Planned Parenthood of Central Missouri v. Danforth, in which the Court struck down a Missouri statute that required for a woman to get an abortion during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy she needed the consent of her spouse, or, in the case of an unmarried minor, the consent of her parents. The Court said that since Roe v. Wade prevented the state from interfering with the woman’s right to obtain an abortion in the first 12 weeks, a state could not grant such a veto to a spouse or a parent.

A Massachusetts post-Roe statute provided that an unmarried pregnant minor who wanted an abortion was required to get her parents’ consent. The statute provided that a minor who was unable to get that consent, or unwilling to seek that consent, could seek a court order allowing the abortion. A judge could grant permission for an abortion ‘‘for good cause shown,’’ despite the absence of parental consent. The Court said that the minor’s ability to get judicial consent was an important constitutional protection of the minor’s rights. However, the Court struck down the requirement that the minor first seek parental consent as an undue burden on her rights.

The Court then distinguished between two classes of minors—those mature enough to make an informed and reasonable decision to have an abortion, and those not so mature. (The Court did not explain how to distinguish between the two.) In the case of a ‘‘mature’’ minor, the Court said that she needed neither her parents’ consent nor that of a judge— such a minor is entitled to the full protection of Roe v. Wade.

Minors not mature enough to make informed decisions would be subject to a different set of proceedings. If such a minor persuaded a judge that the abortion was in her best interest, the judge could grant permission without any parental involvement. If the judge is not persuaded that an abortion is in the minor’s best interest, the Court said the judge could deny consent or could require consultation with the parents before making a decision.

Since the Court’s decision in Bellotti v. Baird did not completely foreclose parental involvement, the door was left open for further legislative efforts to limit abortions of unmarried minors.

ELI C. BORTMAN

Cases and Statutes Cited

  • Planned Parenthood of Central Missouri v. Danforth, 428 U.S. 52 (1976) 
  • Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973) 

See also Abortion; Planned Parenthood of Missouri v. Danforth, 428 U.S. 52 (1976); Reproductive Freedom; Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973)

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