Maher v. Roe

LOCATION:Connecticut Welfare Department (Now Department of Social Services)

DOCKET NO.: 75-1440
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)

CITATION: 432 US 464 (1977)
ARGUED: Jan 11, 1977
DECIDED: Jun 20, 1977

Edmund C. Walsh – Argued the cause for the appellant
Lucy V. Katz – Argued the cause for the appellees

Facts of the case

In the wake of Roe v. Wade, the Connecticut Welfare Department issued regulations limiting state Medicaid benefits for first-trimester abortions to those that were “medically necessary.” An indigent woman (“Susan Roe”) challenged the regulations and sued Edward Maher, the Commissioner of Social Services in Connecticut.


Did the Connecticut law violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment?

Media for Maher v. Roe

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – January 11, 1977 in Maher v. Roe

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – June 20, 1977 in Maher v. Roe

Lewis F. Powell, Jr.:

In the case that I’ve just announced, the Bill against Doe, we held that the Social Security Act does not require the funding of non-therapeutic abortions.

This case, Maher against Roe, presents a constitutional question, whether a state Medicare program validly may deny funding for such abortions while providing it for childbirth.

A Connecticut regulation limits Medicare benefits for first trimester abortions to those that are medically necessary, a term defined to include psychiatric necessity but not elective abortions.

Respondents in this case, two indigent women unable to obtain a physician’s certificate of medical necessity challenged the regulation.

Relying on our 1973 decisions in Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton, a three-judge district court held that the regulation violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

We noted probable jurisdiction and we now reverse.

Our cases recognize a basic distinction between direct state interference with a protected activity and state encouragement of an alternative activity consonant with legislative policy.

Unlike the laws invalidated in our previous abortion decisions, the Connecticut regulation does not interfere with the protected right to choose abortion.

The pregnant woman remains free of legal restraints, nor does a regulation violate the Equal Protection Clause.

We have noted in prior decisions that a State has a strong and legitimate interest in normal childbirth.

Connecticut, as a matter of policy and in furtherance of this issue, has chosen to fund childbirth expenses but not those of non-therapeutic abortions.

We cannot say that the Constitution forbids a State to make this policy a choice.

It is important to understand the nature and scope of our decisions.

We do not hold that the funding of such abortions is unlawful.

Congress is quite free to require provision about Medicare benefits for abortions as a condition of state participation in the Medicare program.

Also, under the Social Security Act, as we have construed it today in the Bill against Doe, Connecticut is equally free to provide such benefits.

We hold only that the Constitution does not require a judicially imposed resolution of this issue.

It is an issue involving the weighing of important public interest, the type of issue that under our Constitution should be resolved by representatives of the people rather than by federal judges.

Mr. Justice Brennan has filed a dissenting opinion in which Mr. Justice Marshall and Mr. Justice Blackmun have joined.

Mr. Justice Marshall also has filed a dissenting opinion and Mr. Justice Blackmun likewise has filed a dissenting opinion in which Mr. Justice Brennan and Mr. Justice Marshall have joined.