Law School Case Brief
Webster v. Reprod. Health Servs. - 492 U.S. 490, 109 S. Ct. 3040 (1989)
In Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court of the United States has recognized that the State has important and legitimate interests in protecting maternal health and in the potentiality of human life. During the second trimester, the State may, if it chooses, regulate the abortion procedure in ways that are reasonably related to maternal health. After viability, when the State's interest in potential human life was held to become compelling, the State may, if it chooses, regulate, and even proscribe, abortion except where it is necessary, in appropriate medical judgment, for the preservation of the life or health of the mother.
A Missouri statute stated in its preamble, Mo. Rev. Stat. §§ 1.205.1(1), (2) (1986), a finding that human life began at conception and that unborn children had protectable interests in life and well-being. Among other things, the statute prohibited the use of public employees and facilities to perform abortions not necessary to save the mother's life, and it prohibited the use of public funds to counsel a woman to have an abortion that was not necessary to save her life. Plaintiffs Reproductive Health Services, which provided abortions and other services, together with public health care officials and others, filed a class action lawsuit against defendants William L. Webster, the Attorney General of Missouri, and the State of Missouri, challenging the constitutionality of the State's abortion statute. The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit struck down several provisions of the statute pursuant to Roe v. Wade. The State appealed from that decision.
Did the court of appeals err when it struck down several provisions of the statute pursuant to Roe v. Wade?
The Supreme Court of the United States held that it was not necessary to determine the constitutionality of the statute's preamble because it simply expressed a value judgment and did not regulate abortions. The Court declined to invalidate the statute's prohibition against the use of public funds, employees, and facilities to provide abortions because the prohibition placed no governmental obstacle in the path of a woman who chose to have an abortion. She was no less off than if the state had chosen not to provide public health care. The Court found that the statute's prohibition against public funded counseling in favor of abortions was moot because plaintiffs contended that they were not adversely affected by that provision.
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