Harris v. McRae Case Brief

Why is the case important?

This case involves the constitutionality of the Hyde Amendment which restricts the use of Medicaid funds for abortions.

Facts of the case

“In 1965, Congress established the Medicaid program, via Title XIX of the Social Security Act, to provide federal financial assistance to states that chose to reimburse certain costs of medical treatment for needy persons. Beginning in 1976, Congress passed a number of versions of the “”Hyde Amendment”” that severely limited the use of federal funds to reimburse the cost of abortions under the Medicaid program. Cora McRae, a pregnant Medicaid recipient, challenged the Amendment and took action against Patricia R. Harris, Secretary of Health and Human Services.”


Whether the Hyde Amendment, by denying public funding for certain medically necessary abortions, contravenes the liberty or equal protection guarantees of the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment, or either of the Religion Clauses of the first Amendment?


No. The constitutional freedoms provided for in Roe v. Wade do not extend to access to public funds. The Hyde Amendment does not place a governmental obstacle in the path of a woman who chooses to terminate her pregnancy, but withholds funding in certain circumstances. Furthermore, the Court states that a woman’s freedom of choice does not carry with it a constitutional entitlement of the financial resources to avail herself of the full range of protected resources. The Hyde Amendment is also upheld as having a rational relationship to a legitimate governmental objective of protecting the potential life of the fetus.


Title XIX did not require a participating state to pay for medically necessary abortions for which federal reimbursement was unavailable under the Hyde Amendment. The court held that the funding restrictions of the Hyde Amendment did not violate U.S. Const. amends. I , V . Appellees lacked standing to raise a challenge to the Hyde Amendment under the Free Exercise Clause of U.S. Const. amend. I . The Due Process Clause did not confer an entitlement to funds in order to obtain an abortion or any other protected right. The fact that the funding restrictions coincided with the religious tenets of the Roman Catholic Church did not, without more, contravene the Establishment Clause .

  • Case Brief: 1980
  • Appellant: Harris
  • Appellee: McRae
  • Decided by: Burger Court

Citation: 448 US 297 (1980)
Argued: Apr 21, 1980
Decided: Jun 30, 1980