|Webster v. Reproductive Health Services|
|Argued April 26, 1989|
Decided July 3, 1989
|Full case name||William L. Webster, Attorney General of Missouri, et al. v. Reproductive Health Services, et al.|
|Citations||492 U.S. 490 (more)|
|Prior||Reproductive Health Servs. v. Webster, 662 F. Supp. 407 (W.D. Mo. 1987); affirmed, 851 F.2d 1071 (8th Cir. 1988); probable jurisdiction noted, 488 U.S. 1003 (1989).|
|The Missouri law did not violate the Fourteenth Amendment.|
|Majority||Rehnquist (part II-C), joined by unanimous; White, O'Connor, Scalia, Kennedy (parts I, II-A, II-B)|
|Plurality||Rehnquist (parts II-D, III), joined by White, Kennedy|
|Concur/dissent||Blackmun, joined by Brennan, Marshall|
|U.S. Const. amend. XIV|
Webster v. Reproductive Health Services, 492 U.S. 490 (1989), was a United States Supreme Court decision on upholding a Missouri law that imposed restrictions on the use of state funds, facilities, and employees in performing, assisting with, or counseling on abortions. The Supreme Court in Webster allowed for states to legislate in an aspect that had previously been thought to be forbidden under Roe v. Wade (1973).
The state of Missouri passed a law which in its preamble stated that "the life of each human being begins at conception", and "unborn children have protectable interests in life, health, and well-being."
The United States District Court for the Western District of Missouri struck down the above provisions, and prohibited their enforcement. This decision was affirmed by the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, which ruled that these provisions violated Roe v. Wade and later Supreme Court decisions.William L. Webster, then Missouri Attorney General, appealed the decision to the Supreme Court. It was argued before the Court on April 26, 1989.
The Court overturned the decision of the lower courts, stating that:
Chief Justice Rehnquist wrote the opinion of the Court for all but Parts II-D and III; however, only Justices White and Kennedy joined that opinion in its entirety. In discussing the fetal viability section, the plurality asserted that the right to abortion was a "liberty interest protected by the Due Process clause" subject to restriction by any laws which would permissibly further a rational state interest such as protecting potential life. The plurality said that this would require the court to "modify and narrow Roe and succeeding cases."
Justices O'Connor and Scalia joined Rehnquist's opinion except for the section on viability testing. Each wrote a separate concurring opinion. Justice O'Connor claimed that narrowing Roe v. Wade in the context of the Webster litigation, where upholding Missouri's law could arguably be squared with Roe, would violate an important principle of judicial restraint. She then explained that she voted to uphold Missouri's law because she did not feel that it would place an undue burden on the right to abortion.
Justice Scalia, who was angered by the refusal of the plurality, as well as Justice O'Connor, to overturn Roe v. Wade, wrote a sharp opinion concurring in the judgment. In his concurrence he argued that the Court ought to have overturned Roe, rather than attempting to uphold both Roe and the laws at issue, and he attacked Justice O'Connor's justification for declining to overturn Roe. He also agreed with Blackmun's assertion that the approach of the plurality would make Roe a dead letter.
Justice Blackmun wrote a dissenting opinion, joined by Justices William Brennan and Thurgood Marshall, which focused on the plurality's desired narrowing of Roe as described in the section on the viability testing requirement. He wrote that the plurality's approach would allow a state to put virtually any restriction on abortion so long as it was rationally related to promoting potential life, and that this in effect would overturn Roe. Noting that the plurality and Scalia together were only a single vote away from effectively overruling Roe, he wrote "I fear for the future" and "a chill wind blows."
Justice John Paul Stevens wrote a separate dissent, where he concurred with the plurality in allowing the state to prohibit public funds from being allocated for abortion counselling, but argued the court otherwise should have upheld the lower courts in striking down the remaining restrictions.
As a response to this Supreme Court decision, the radical feminist art collective Sister Serpents was formed in Chicago to empower women and to increase awareness of women's issues through radical art.