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Harris v. McRae (1980)

In Brief

Harris v. McCrae (1980): Court upholds Hyde Amendment limiting federal abortion funding to life-saving abortions

The Social Security Act provides health benefits to the poor, but Congress limited abortion funding to cases where the abortion is necessary to save the life of the mother (and later to abortions involving pregnancies from rape or incest). The limitation is an annual appropriations rider known as the Hyde Amendment.

Cora McCrae wanted the government to pay for her abortion even though she had no emergency medical need for abortion. She filed suit claiming the Hyde Amendment violated her constitutional rights.

The Supreme Court disagreed. The Court said the government may distinguish between abortion and other procedures in funding decisions because "no other procedure involves the purposeful termination of a potential life." The Court said Roe v. Wade created only a limitation on the ability of government to interfere with abortion, not an entitlement for government funding of abortion. The Court also rejected claims that the law was discriminatory and was an establishment of religion.

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