Harris V. McRae

Up until about thirty minutes ago, if you had asked me what Harris vs. McRae was, I’d have to guess it was a new Wimbledon matchup.  But after reading this article, I have no idea how I had never heard of this amazingly important Supreme Court decision.

Via Abortion Funds:

In the case Harris v. McRae, the Court decided by a 5-4 vote that it did not violate women’s constitutional rights for Congress to eliminate federal funding for abortion under Medicaid.

In essence, the Supreme Court said that women’s problems accessing abortion care are a result of their poverty, not a result of the government’s policy to eliminate federal funding of abortion care.

The Court declared that Congress is free to adopt policies that favor childbirth over abortion. This decision upended the balance struck in Roe v. Wade, which placed the government’s interest in protecting women’s lives and health over and above the government’s interest in protecting the potential life of a fetus, and established the right of every woman to make the decision about whether to have an abortion for herself.

As Justice Marshall wrote in his dissenting opinion, “The Court’s decision today marks a retreat from Roe v. Wade and represents a cruel blow to the most powerless members of our society.”

It is because of arguments like the ones in Harris vs. McRae that some states, like Minnesota, who passed Doe vs. Gomez, declared that Medicaid can be used on abortion services because anything else is denying a woman her constitutional right to an abortion simply because of her economic background.  Unfortunately, thanks to anti-choice fixation on “taxpayer abortions” and the idea that any dollar “indirectly funds abortion,” states like Minnesota are few, and getting fewer every day.

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  • sonicnylon

    The policy of withholding Federal funds orginated in the civil rights conflict of the 1950s and ’60s. It was innovatively decided that that institutions and programs that practiced racial segregation and discrimination could and should be denied federal funding.


    The orginal rationale: Federal revenues are drawn from the WHOLE  population and should not be used to finance operations that serve only PART of the population.


    The Hyde Amendment and its illegitimate constitutional approval in Harris v. McRae turns that inclusion principle on its head: Women pay taxes to support Medicaid yet their own health needs are to be excluded. The law is used to REQUIRE exactly the noxious  discrimination that it was originally intended to oppose!

  • crowepps

    I’m not sure you’ve identified the historical justification for the law correctly.  In my recollection, it didn’t have anything to do with who paid the taxes, but rather with the fact that equal citizens should have equal access to government services.  When the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964, the federal government began monitoring not from whom taxes were collected, but whether federal funds were being distributed equitably, and played hard ball in punishing those states who attempted to openly continue segregation.


    I agree with you that levying taxes on a citizen and then refusing to allow that citizen access to the services which those taxes make available is absolutely outrageous, but it’s equally outrageous to refuse to allow a citizen equal access to government services when that citizen isn’t paying any taxes at all.