Supreme Court Vacates Ruling that Minors Have Constitutional ‘Right’ to Abortion; One Justice Dissents
The U.S. Supreme Court has vacated a lower court’s opinion asserting that underage girls possess a constitutional right to have an abortion without notifying their parents. Only one justice, Ketanji Brown Jackson, dissented that her colleagues effectively erased the pro-abortion decision from the books, preventing lawyers from citing it as a binding legal precedent in future cases.
Justices on Monday wiped out an appeals court’s decision in the Chapman v. Doe case. In 2018, a 17-year-old referred to as “Jane Doe” sought a Missouri court ruling to bypass the state’s law requiring that she obtain parental consent before undergoing an abortion. But a Randolph County court clerk named Michelle Chapman told the minor that the judge said her parents must be notified before the court hearing. Doe traveled to Illinois, where she received a judge’s permission and underwent an abortion.
She then contracted the ACLU to sue Chapman for placing an “undue burden” on her unalienable “right” to abortion, violating the terms of Justice Anthony Kennedy’s 1992 opinion in Casey v. Planned Parenthood.
Hearing Doe’s case, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals contended last April that the right of a minor to bypass parental input or knowledge is an established part of U.S. citizenship. Jane “Doe’s constitutional right to apply for a judicial bypass without notifying her parents is clearly established by Supreme Court precedent,” said the appeals court. “Chapman’s refusal to allow her to apply for a judicial bypass without parental notification violated her Fourteenth Amendment rights.”
Two months later, the Supreme Court issued its Dobbs decision, which ruled that “procuring an abortion is not a fundamental constitutional right because such a right has no basis in the Constitution’s text or in our [n]ation’s history.” Chapman and Dobbs agreed the decision made their case moot — but Chapman then appealed to have the lower court ruling thrown out.
In Chapman’s legal filing, Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey (R) noted, since Roe v. Wade had not established a minor’s right to obtain an abortion without her parents’ involvement, the lower court’s ruling “carries legal significance on parental notification requirements that this Court has not” established. Bailey requested the justices issue a vacated judgment, known as a “Munsingwear vacatur,” which Bailey noted, “prevents the decision from spawning legal consequences for similarly situated persons.”
Justices on Monday remanded the case to the Eighth Circuit with instructions to vacate and dismiss it as moot. That halts others from citing the Eighth Circuit’s pro-abortion ruling as precedent in future cases.
“We are still seeing the trickle-down effects of the Dobbsdecision — both saving unborn children’s lives and now protecting the right of states to protect parental notification laws,” Mary Szoch, director of the Center for Human Dignity at Family Research Council, told The Washington Stand. “When a minor is considering a decision as tragic, terrible, and dangerous as allowing an abortionist to kill her unborn child, her parents should be there to help their daughter choose life and to speak up in defense of their grandchild’s life.”
President Joe Biden’s only Supreme Court appointee to date, Associate Justice Katanji Brown Jackson, issued the lone dissent. “[O]ur common-law system assumes that judicial decisions are valuable and should not be cast aside lightly, especially because judicial precedents ‘are not merely the property of private litigants,’ but also belong to the public and ‘legal community as a whole,’” she wrote. She argued, since Chapman agreed the case was moot due to Dobbs, Dobbs did not play the definitive role in making the ruling moot.
Jackson represented NARAL Pro-Choice America, the League of Women Voters, and the Abortion Access Project of Massachusetts during the time she belonged to Boston’s Goodwin Procter law firm.
Jackson also generated headlines during her confirmation hearings, when she said she felt incapable of defining the word “woman,” because she is “not a biologist.”
The issue of parental notification and consent for their young daughter’s abortion continues to play a part of the national debate over parental rights, which has expanded to public school curriculum, school library book choices, and gender transitions.
The high court remains largely sympathetic to parental rights. Last June, Chief Justice John Roberts allowed Indiana to begin enforcing its parental notification law as the case made its way through the court system.
Yet lower courts remain mixed. A Montana judge permanently enjoined that state’s parental consent law as “unconstitutional and unenforceable” last month but said a trial must determine the fate of its 2012 Notification Act. Lewis and Clark County District Court Judge Chris Abbott was appointed to the bench by former Governor Steve Bullock, a Democrat.
The debate has also engulfed potential judicial appointees. Democrats have signaled concern over Biden’s appointment of Michael Delaney, nominated for the Boston-based First U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, because he once signed a petition for a parental notification case. As deputy attorney general of New Hampshire in 2005, Delaney signed a brief in Ayotte vs. Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, which required parents to be notified before minor daughters had an abortion.
Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said, since he sees abortion as “a fundamental, core issue … I’d want to know why he put his name on the brief.” Another, unnamed Democratic senator also told the Associated Press of their hesitancy because of Delaney signing the brief, and the National Council of Jewish Women opposes Delaney’s nomination, saying his role in the 2006 Supreme Court ruling proves he lacks “fairness, independence, fidelity to constitutional values, and respect” for plaintiffs.
A total of 36 states require parental notification of one or both parents before an unemancipated minor can have an abortion, including 21 states that demand at least one parent’s consent, but 35 of those states provide for a judicial bypass, according to the pro-abortion Guttmacher Institute.
“We should give thanks for the Dobbsdecision that continues to positively impact other Supreme Court decisions and allows states to do whatever possible to protect the unborn,” said Szoch.
Ben Johnson is senior reporter and editor at The Washington Stand.