H.L. v. Matheson

450 U.S. 398 (1981)
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The Appellant, H.L., brought this class action suit challenging a Utah law which required a physician to notify, if possible, the parents or guardian of a minor upon whom an abortion was to be performed. H.L. represented a class consisting of unmarried minor women who wished to terminate their “unwanted pregnancies” but were unable to do so. H.L. was a pregnant, unmarried 15 year old who lived at home and was dependant on her parents for support. Her physician had determined that an abortion would be in her best interests but refused to perform an abortion without first notifying her parents.

H.L. alleged that the notification requirement infringed the right of a minor to obtain an abortion. She sought a declaration that the law was unconstitutional and an injunction against its enforcement.

The Utah Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s finding that the law did not unconstitutionally restrict a minor’s right of privacy.

The Court upheld the parental notification requirement as constitutionally valid. The Court held that the Utah law served “important state interests, [was] narrowly drawn to protect only those interests, and [did] not violate any guarantees of the Constitution.” It held that a law setting out the mere requirement that a physician give notice to parents, if possible, prior to performing an abortion on their minor daughter was not unconstitutional when: the girl was living with and dependent upon her parents; she was not emancipated by marriage or otherwise; and she had made no claim or showing as to her maturity or as to her relations with her parents. The Court affirmed Bellotti v Baird, 443 U. S. 622 (1979) and Planned Parenthood v Danforth, 428 U. S. 52 (1976), reiterating that “a state may not constitutionally legislate [an absolute], unreviewable power of parents to veto their daughter's abortion.”

The Court declared that the law addressed important considerations concerning family integrity and the protection of immature minors, while providing an opportunity for parents to supply essential medical and psychological information to the performing physician. It held that the law was not unconstitutional for failing to specify what medical information parents may furnish to physicians; for failing to provide for a mandatory period of delay after the physician notified the parents; for allowing a pregnant minor to consent to other medical procedures without formal notice to her parents; or because the notice requirement might inhibit some minors from seeking abortions.

“Although we have held that a state may not constitutionally legislate a blanket, unreviewable power of parents to veto their daughter's abortion, a statute setting out a ‘mere requirement of parental notice’ does not violate the constitutional rights of an immature, dependent minor.” 450 U.S., p. 409.

“As immature minors often lack the ability to make fully informed choices that take account of both immediate and long-range consequences, a State reasonably may determine that parental consultation often is desirable and in the best interest of the minor. It may further determine, as a general proposition, that such consultation is particularly desirable with respect to the abortion decision—one that for some people raises profound moral and religious concerns.” 450 U.S., p. 409.

“[T]he statute serves a significant state interest by providing an opportunity for parents to supply essential medical and other information to a physician. The medical, emotional, and psychological consequences of an abortion are serious and can be lasting; this is particularly so when the patient is immature. An adequate medical and psychological case history is important to the physician. Parents can provide medical and psychological data, refer the physician to other sources of medical history, such as family physicians, and authorize family physicians to give relevant data.” 450 U.S., p. 411.

“Appellant intimates that the statute's failure to declare, in terms, a detailed description of what information parents may provide to physicians, or to provide for a mandatory period of delay after the physician notifies the parents, renders the statute unconstitutional. The notion that the statute must itemize information to be supplied by parents finds no support in logic, experience, or our decisions.” 450 U.S., p. 412.

“The Constitution does not compel a state to finetune its statutes so as to encourage or facilitate abortions. To the contrary, state action ‘encouraging childbirth except in the most urgent circumstances’ is ‘rationally related to the legitimate governmental objective of protecting potential life.’” 450 U.S., p. 413.

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