SCOTUS Reverses Appeals Court Ruling for Minors’ ‘Right’ to Abortion

SCOTUS Reverses Appeals Court Ruling for Minors’ ‘Right’ to Abortion

The Supreme Court on March 20 vacated a 2018 appeals court ruling that an underage Missouri teenager had a right to seek an abortion without notifying her parents.

Only one justice, Ketanji Brown Jackson, dissented. Jackson, whom President Biden nominated last year to succeed retiring Justice Stephen Breyer, wrote in her four-page dissent that her colleagues effectively erased the appeals court decision from the books, preventing lawyers from citing it as a binding legal precedent in future cases.

Before Missouri’s abortion ban took effect following the high court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade in June, Missouri law required minors to secure written parental consent before obtaining an abortion.

Currently, 36 states require parental notification of one or both parents before a dependent minor can have an abortion, including 21 states that demand at least one parent’s consent. Still, 35 of those states provide for a judicial bypass, according to the pro-abortion Guttmacher Institute. But because of the Supreme Court’s decision to eliminate the appeals court’s ruling, there is no longer a legal precedent for minors seeking an abortion to bypass parental consent.

The 2018 case, Doe v. Chapman, was initially filed by a 17-year-old girl, “Jane Doe,” against Randolph County court clerk Michelle Chapman. Doe alleged that Chapman violated her 14th Amendment rights by insisting that her parents still be notified before she could apply for a judicial bypass to the state’s abortion parental consent requirement.

Undeterred, Doe traveled to Illinois where she was granted a judge’s permission and underwent an abortion. The ACLU then filed a lawsuit against Chapman for placing an “undue burden” on Doe’s “unalienable right” to abortion.

The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals contended last April in Doe’s case that a minor’s right to bypass parental input or knowledge is an established part of U.S. citizenship. “Doe’s constitutional right to apply for a judicial bypass without notifying her parents is clearly established by Supreme Court precedent,” the appeals court ruled. “Chapman’s refusal to allow her to apply for a judicial bypass without parental notification violated her Fourteenth Amendment rights.” 

Then in June, the Supreme Court issued its Dobbs ruling 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 nation’s history.” Chapman agreed the decision made their case moot. Nevertheless, 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.

Consequently, 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.”

The justices on Monday remanded the case to the 8th Circuit with instructions to vacate and dismiss it as moot.

Mary Szoch, director of the Center for Human Dignity at Family Research Council, told The Washington Stand that the Supreme Court’s ruling to wipe out the appeals court ruling is a win for parental rights.

“We are still seeing the trickle-down effects of the Dobbs decision—both saving unborn children’s lives and now protecting the right of states to protect parental notification laws,” Szoch said. “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.” 

Associate Justice Jackson’s lone dissent seems consistent with her record as an attorney. Jackson represented NARAL Pro-Choice America, the League of Women Voters and the Abortion Access Project of Massachusetts during her tenure with Boston’s Goodwin Procter law firm.

Photo: Anna Sullivan /

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