WASHINGTON (August 4, 2005)—In a friend of the court brief, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and the Roman Catholic Bishop of Manchester, New Hampshire, urged the Supreme Court of the United States to uphold the constitutionality of that state's parental notification law.
The case, Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, arose when lower courts overturned the New Hampshire statute because it did not contain a "health exception."
The brief described the decision by the First Circuit as a "throwback" to an earlier time before the Supreme Court acknowledged in Casey that it had gone "too far" in striking down reasonable restrictions on abortion.
"This case presents an opportunity for this Court to fulfill the promise it made in Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992), which restored to legislatures broader power to regulate abortion than some of this Court's previous cases had recognized," said the amicus brief, filed August 4.
"Applying Casey and other precedent, this Court should reject the attempt to portray parental notice laws as creating a conflict between the rights of parents and the interests of their children. If a family is to retain its vitality and integrity when confronted with the reality of an unexpected pregnancy, parents must, at a minimum, be permitted to
reflect upon and discuss with their pregnant adolescent daughter the decision whether to carry her child to term or to undergo an abortion."
The USCCB brief said the parental notification law sought to advance the constitutionally protected responsibility of parents to be the guardians of their children's health. "The First Circuit read this Court's precedents to require that the New Hampshire law include a 'health exception' which would give an abortion provider the discretion to dispense with the notification requirement anytime it deems an abortion necessary for the minor's health. This holding is contrary to this Court's precedent and common sense."
The brief noted that the Supreme Court upheld against constitutional challenge a Minnesota parental notice law despite the absence of a "health" exception in Hodgson v. Minnesota, (1990), which is materially indistinguishable from New Hampshire's. "Hodgson therefore controls here," the brief declared. "The First Circuit's opinion requires one to assume that this Court, in Casey, rewrote its parental notification precedent and overruled Hodgson without saying so. Given Casey's lengthy discussion of the need to respect precedent, its explicit overruling of two previous cases, its favorable citation to Hodgson, and its insistence that states should now be freer to regulate abortion, an 'implicit' overruling of Hodgson seems far-fetched."
"It would be a grave mistake to divest parents of meaningful input into the health care of their own dependent children," the brief continued. "The First Circuit's decision falsely assumes a conflict between the right and responsibility of parents to care for their children, on the one hand, and the best interests of their children, on the other. In every other context, the law assumes that parents are the natural guardians of their children's health and best interests. It should be no different here."
The brief asserted that requiring a health exception in this case is unnecessary (the New Hampshire statute allows minors to bypass their parents through 24-hour access to the state courts) and would undermine the whole point of the notification requirement. A health exception would be subject to abuse, the brief said, because it would make an
abortion practitioner with a financial interest in performing an abortion the custodian, in place of the parents, of a pregnant teen's interests.
"At bottom, the (First Circuit's) decision…is a throwback to an earlier and now discredited era in which this Court admits it went 'too far'…in striking down reasonable abortion legislation that in no sense deprived a woman of the ultimate decision whether to have an abortion," the brief declared. "In a broader sense, this case provides the entire Court with an opportunity to reassert, as seven justices did in Casey, that some policy decisions on abortion, including those now before this Court, are simply beyond the judicial ken and appropriately left to legislatures."
The brief, prepared by Mark E. Chopko, General Counsel, and Michael F. Moses, Associate General Counsel, of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, is available on the Conference's Web site. See http://www.usccb.org/ogc/amicusind.shtml.