Williams v. Zbaraz

PETITIONER: Jasper F. Williams, et al.
RESPONDENT: David Zbaraz, et al.
LOCATION: United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division

DOCKET NO.: 79-4
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)

CITATION: 448 US 358 (1980)
ARGUED: Apr 21, 1980
DECIDED: Jun 30, 1980
GRANTED: Nov 26, 1979

Robert W. Bennett - for appellees in each case
Victor G. Rosenblum - for appellants in No. 79-4
Wade H. McCree, Jr. - for appellant in No. 79-491
William A. Wenzel, III - for appellants in No. 79-5

Facts of the case

These are three consolidated cases.

Jasper F. Williams and Eugene F. Diamond, doctors who perform medically necessary abortions, a welfare rights organization, and Jane Doe, a woman in poverty who needed an abortion for medical reasons but not to save her life, brought a class action suit against the Director of the Illinois Department of Public Aid in federal district court. The appellants challenged an Illinois statute that prohibited state medical assistance from paying for abortions that were not necessary to save the life of the mother. The appellants alleged that the Medicaid Act required the state to cover the cost of all medically necessary abortions. They also alleged that the denial of funding for certain abortions is a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection.

Initially, the district court refused to consider the case until the state courts had reached a decision on the statute. The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit reversed the decision and remanded the case to the district court to for consideration on the merits. The district court held that the Medicaid Act required a state to provide funding for all medically necessary abortions. The district court also held that the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits the use of federal funds for certain abortions, does not exempt the state from fulfilling the Medicaid requirements. The Court of Appeals reversed the decision and held that the Hyde Amendment allows a state to limit funding to the type of abortions the Amendment specifies. The case was remanded to the district court with instructions to consider the constitutional issues. The district court held that both the Illinois statute and the Hyde Amendment were unconstitutional.


(1) Did the district court have the jurisdiction to consider the constitutionality of the Hyde Amendment?

(2) Does the Hyde Amendment allow a state to limit its Medicaid funding of abortions to those specified by the Amendment?

Media for Williams v. Zbaraz

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 21, 1980 (Part 2) in Williams v. Zbaraz

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 21, 1980 (Part 1) in Williams v. Zbaraz

Warren E. Burger:

The case is submitted.

We'll hear arguments next in Williams against Zbaraz and the two consolidated cases.

Mr. Wenzel, you may proceed whenever you're ready.

William A. Wenzel, III:

Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the Court.

I'm appearing here today on behalf of Jeffrey C. Miller, the acting Director of the Illinois Department of Public Aid.

Director Miller, the defendant below, appeals the ruling of the District Court which invalidated Illinois Public Act 80-1091 as violative of the equal protection of the laws for women who are seeking medically necessary abortions, but not abortions which were necessary to preserve their lives.

The issue today before the Court is two-fold.

First, there is the equal protection issue, whether or not the State may validly limit abortion funding under its medical assistance programs to instances where the mother's life would be preserved taking into account the State's interest in fetal life and also taking into account the State's willingness to fund alternative treatments to abortion.

The second issue really should be discussed first, because it certainly shapes and clarifies equal protection issue, that issue is, what is the State's obligations under Title XIX of the Social Security Act?

A short background would be appropriate to bring these issues into focus.

The Illinois Generally Assembly in December of 1977 enacted on a Public Act P80-1091 in response to two federal initiatives.

Earlier that year, this Court had issued it's rulings in the cases of Maher versus Roe, Beal versus Doe and Poelker versus Doe.

Those cases stand for the proposition that indigent pregnant women have no constitutional right, nor statutory entitlement to a nontherapeutic abortion.

Earlier, United States Congress, as was explored in a case that just preceded us, had enacted the first version of the Federal Hyde Amendment.

The Federal Hyde Amendment limited abortion funding under the Medicaid Act, except where an abortion was necessary to avoid the endangerment of the woman's life.

Potter Stewart:

Mr. Wenzel, just a -- let me see if I understand the appropriate statutory context to this case.

When Title XIX was originally enacted, the criminal laws of many, if not most States, made the performance of an abortion a serious offense.

And I suppose that nobody could have argued back in those days in 1965 when Title XIX was enacted by the Congress that Title XIX authorized or directed the States, let alone authorized them to pay for therapeutic abortions.

Is that it?

William A. Wenzel, III:

That -- that is correct.

Potter Stewart:

And then came along this decision -- this Court's decisions in Roe and Doe, Bolton and thereafter, I suppose it was clear that Title XIX, this is prior to any Hyde Amendment, authorized and directed the States to cooperatively finance such therapeutic abortion.

William A. Wenzel, III:

We do not take that position of --

Potter Stewart:

You do not.

William A. Wenzel, III:

-- interpretation of Title XIX.

Potter Stewart:

But then clearly, you do take the position that after the Hyde Amendment, a State is not required to.

William A. Wenzel, III:

That is correct.

Our view of Title --

Potter Stewart:

Now, which -- which of your position in that intermediate period?

After -- after this Court's decisions in Doe and before the Hyde Amendment.

William A. Wenzel, III:

After Roe versus Wade.