SCOTUS Overturns Appeals Court Upholding Abortion Without Parental Consent

SCOTUS Overturns Appeals Court Upholding Abortion Without Parental Consent
The Supreme Court building in Washington on Feb. 24, 2023. (Madalina Vasiliu/The Epoch Times)
Matthew Vadum

The Supreme Court threw out a federal appeals court decision on March 20 that upheld the right of a minor to go to court for permission to pursue an abortion without notifying her parents.

Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson was the sole member of the Supreme Court to file a dissenting opinion in the case, Chapman v. Doe, court file 22-312.

In the case, the court vacated the ruling of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit and remanded the case to that court with instructions to dismiss the proceeding as moot. Jackson objected to the specific manner in which this was done because it erased any precedential value the circuit court ruling may have had.

In the case, a pregnant minor, Jane Doe, visited her local courthouse to apply for a dispensation allowing her to bypass parental consent for the planned abortion. The office of the petitioner, Michelle Chapman, circuit clerk for Randolph County, Missouri, told her she couldn’t file a bypass petition without notifying a parent.

Doe got an abortion in Illinois after a court there authorized it, absent parental notification.

Doe filed a civil rights lawsuit in federal district court for damages, claiming that Chapman violated her 14th Amendment rights. Chapman took the position that she was immune to lawsuits because she followed a Missouri statute and a judge’s directions.

Chapman also claimed that Doe’s right to a bypass hearing wasn’t clearly established and that she therefore couldn’t have violated Doe’s rights.

In what was perceived as a victory for the pro-abortion movement, the district court ruled against Chapman, finding that the statute didn’t require prehearing notification of the minor’s parents to obtain judicial authorization for an abortion.

The 8th Circuit later determined that Doe’s claim must be allowed to proceed, finding that the right to bypass the parents was clearly established under the 14th Amendment.

But in September 2022, Chapman asked the Supreme Court to review the case after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, finding there was no right to abortion in the U.S. Constitution and returning the regulation of abortion to the states.

In its June 24, 2022, ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the high court also reversed a related 1992 precedent, Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, which affirmed Roe and declared that a woman had a right to obtain an abortion before fetal viability without undue interference from the state.

“Doe’s claims rely on the proposition” that requiring parental notification of a judicial bypass proceeding must satisfy the undue burden test announced in Casey, Chapman said.

But as time wore on, both sides agreed that the Supreme Court case was moot and should be dismissed.

In court papers, Chapman said that the Dobbs decision rendered the case moot. Lawyers for the other side, however, argued that the case was moot because the parties in the litigation signed a joint stipulation of dismissal.

Instead of disposing of the case by denying Chapman’s petition and leaving the 8th Circuit ruling intact, the Supreme Court summarily granted Chapman’s petition in a grant, vacate, and remand order. In doing so, the court skipped over the oral argument phase, when the merits of the case would have been considered, and moved directly to judgment.

In her dissent (pdf), Jackson said the high court took the wrong approach by issuing what is known as a “Munsingwear vacatur.”

This procedure, which takes its name from a Supreme Court ruling from the 1950s, is used to prevent a vacated decision from being cited as precedent by other courts.

Jackson suggested that the high court uses the procedure too often and that doing so interferes with the precedent-based system that federal courts rely on.

“I am concerned that contemporary practice related to so-called ‘Munsingwear vacaturs’ has drifted away from the doctrine’s foundational moorings,” she said.

“Our common-law system assumes that judicial decisions are valuable and should not be cast aside lightly.”

Doe’s attorney and next friend, Anthony Rothert of the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri, welcomed the Supreme Court ruling. A next friend is someone who appears in court on behalf of another, usually because the person is a minor or is deemed legally incompetent.

“We do not disagree with anything Justice Jackson wrote in dissent, but we are pleased that the case has been resolved to our client’s satisfaction,” Rothert told The Epoch Times by email.

“In the end, this case adds to the historical record of the extralegal lengths to which government officials in Missouri went to interfere with individuals’ reproductive health care long before Dobbs gave them permission to do so,” he wrote.

The office of the Missouri Attorney General, which represents Chapman, didn’t respond to a request for comment by press time.