Bellotti v. Baird

In Bellotti v. Baird (Bellotti II), the Supreme Court addressed the issue of whether a dependent, unmarried minor can be required to obtain parental consent before undergoing an abortion. In a decision that recognized that minors can possess the competency and maturity to make the important decision of whether to obtain an abortion, the Court ruled that a state law can require a pregnant, unmarried minor to obtain parental consent for an abortion if the law also provides a bypass procedure that allows her to obtain judicial permission for the abortion without parental notification.

The 1974 Massachusetts law in question required an unmarried, pregnant minor to provide proof of her consent and her parents' consent to obtain an abortion. If either or both of her parents withheld consent, the young woman could obtain a judicial order to permit her to have an abortion. Alleging that the law created an undue burden for minors seeking abortions, opponents of the law brought a "test-case" class-action suit in the Federal District Court of Massachusetts to enjoin the operation of the statute. This legal action reached the U.S. Supreme Court in 1976, but the Court declined to consider the merits of the case because of a procedural error. Instead, the Supreme Court vacated the judgment of the District Court and remanded the case for a final determination of the statute's meaning by the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts.

The case again reached the U.S. Supreme Court in 1979, at which time the Court fully addressed the issue of whether the law's parental consent requirement placed an undue burden on an unmarried, pregnant minor seeking an abortion. The Court stated that persons under age eighteen are not without constitutional protection; however, their constitutional rights and individual liberty must be balanced against considerations such as a minor's possible inability to make an informed decision and the important parental role of child rearing. Although the Court recognized that parental advice and consent could be important in helping a minor decide whether she should obtain an abortion, in an 8-1 decision, the Court invalidated the Massachusetts statute.

As Robert H. Mnookin and D. Kelly Weisberg have suggested, Justice Powell's plurality opinion sets forth guidelines to assist states in determining the extent to which a state can permissibly limit a minor's right to an abortion. According to the decision in Bellotti v. Baird, a state can require a minor to obtain consent to undergo an abortion, but it cannot solely require parental consent. Instead, the law must provide an alternative to parental consent–a "bypass" procedure. This procedure must satisfy four requirements: first, the minor must be permitted to demonstrate to the judge that she is mature and adequately well-informed to make the abortion decision with her physician and without parental consent; second, if she cannot demonstrate the requisite maturity, she must be permitted to convince the judge that the abortion would nonetheless be in her best interest; third, the bypass procedure must assure her anonymity, and; fourth, the bypass procedure must be sufficiently expedient to allow her to obtain the abortion.

See also: Adolescence and Youth; Children's Rights; Law, Children and the; Teenage Mothers in the United States.


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