Beal v. Doe,
432 U.S. 438 (1977)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Beal v. Doe, 432 U.S. 438 (1977)

Beal v. Doe

No. 75-554

Argued January 11, 1977

Decided June 20, 1977

432 U.S. 438


Title XIX of the Social Security Act establishes a Medical Assistance (Medicaid) program, under which participating States financially assist qualified individuals in five general categories of medical treatment, state plans being required to establish "reasonable standards . . . for determining . . . the extent of medical assistance under the plan which are consistent with" Title XIX's objectives. Respondents, who are eligible for medical assistance under Pennsylvania's Medicaid plan and who were denied financial assistance for desired nontherapeutic abortions pursuant to state regulations limiting such assistance to abortions certified by physicians as medically necessary, brought this action seeking injunctive and declaratory relief, contending that the certification requirement contravened Title XIX and denied them equal protection of the laws. A three-judge District Court decided the statutory issue against respondents, but the constitutional issue partially in their favor. The Court of Appeals, not reaching the constitutional question, reversed on the statutory issue, holding that Title XIX prohibits participating States from requiring a medical necessity certificate as a funding condition during the first two trimesters of pregnancy.


1. Title XIX of the Social Security Act does not require the funding of nontherapeutic abortions as a condition of participation in the Medicaid program established by that Act. Pp. 432 U. S. 443-447.

(a) Nothing in the language of Title XIX requires a participating State to fund every medical procedure falling within the delineated categories of medical care. Each State is given broad discretion to determine the extent of medical assistance that is "reasonable" and "consistent with the objectives" of Title XIX. Pp. 432 U. S. 443-444.

(b) Although serious statutory questions might be presented if state Medicaid plans did not cover necessary medical treatment, it is not inconsistent with the Act's goals to refuse to fund unnecessary (though perhaps desirable) medical services. Pp. 432 U. S. 444-445.

(c) The State has a strong interest in encouraging normal childbirth

Page 432 U. S. 439

that exists throughout the course of a woman's pregnancy, and nothing in Title XIX suggests that it is unreasonable for a State to further that interest. It therefore will not be presumed that Congress intended to condition a State's participation in Medicaid on its willingness to undercut that interest by subsidizing the costs of nontherapeutic abortions. Pp. 432 U. S. 445-446.

(d) When Congress passed Title XIX, nontherapeutic abortions were unlawful in most States, a fact that undermines the contention that Congress intended to require -- rather than permit -- participating States to fund such abortions. Moreover, the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, the agency that administers Title XIX, takes the position that the Title allows, but does not mandate, funding for such abortions. P. 432 U. S. 447.

2. Whether or not that aspect of Pennsylvania's program under which financial assistance is not provided for medically necessary abortions unless two physicians in addition to the attending physician have examined the patient and have concurred in writing as to the medical necessity of the abortion interferes with the attending physician's medical judgment in a manner not contemplated by Congress should be considered on remand. P. 432 U. S. 448.

523 F.2d 611, reversed and remanded.

POWELL, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and STEWART, WHITE, REHNQUIST, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. BRENNAN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which MARSHALL and BLACKMUN, JJ., joined, post, p. 432 U. S. 448. MARSHALL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 432 U. S. 454. BLACKMUN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN and MARSHALL, JJ., joined, post, p. 432 U. S. 462.

Page 432 U. S. 440

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