Harry Blackmun: Dissent in Beal v. Doe


The 1977 case of Beal v. Doe concerned the application of federal funds to abortion clinics. Pennsylvania law prohibited the use of state Medicaid funds to pay for abortions for poor women, except in cases where a physician had certified the procedure as medically necessary. A group of Medicaid-eligible pregnant women who were seeking elective abortions brought a lawsuit in federal district court challenging the state law and claiming their right to abortion under Medicaid. At the same time, they claimed that denying them coverage violated the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The U.S. Supreme Court majority decision sided with the state, noting that the Medicaid law gave broad discretion to the states in adopting standards for medical care. In his dissent, Harry Blackmun argued that the Pennsylvania law was designed to do indirectly what the state could not do directly—interfere with a pregnant woman’s decision to undergo an abortion.

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Harry Blackmun (Library of Congress)

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