Bellotti v. Baird

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Bellotti v. Baird
Case Title Bellotti v. Baird, 443 U.S. 622 (1979)
Date 1979/02/27
Appealed No
Personal Information Medical and Health, Preference, Knowledge and Belief
Taxonomy Decisional Interference
Link to Ruling
Country/Jurisdiction United States
State or Province
Regulatory Bodies
Decided Yes
Arbitrator US Supreme Court
Related Laws Constitution - Amendment XIV

Short Summary

Before the held case in 1979, the Massachusetts District Court first heard Bellotti v. Baird in 1974, and in July 1976 the case went to the US Supreme Court. Bellotti v. Baird, 428 U.S. 132 (1976). It was a United States Supreme Court case in which the Court upheld a Massachusetts law requiring parental consent to a minor's abortion, under the provision that "if one or both of the minor's parents refusion consent, consent may be obtained by order of a judge... for good cause shown."United States Supreme Court case that ruled 8-1 that teenagers do not have to secure parental consent to obtain an abortion.


A Massachusetts law required minors to gain parental consent before having an abortion. However, if either or both of the parents refused, a judge of the superior court could allow a minor to have the procedure "for good cause shown." In Bellotti, the issue was whether the law unconstitutionally did restrict the right of a minor to have an abortion.

Balliro presented an argument on behalf of Baird. Balliro argued that the Massachusetts law was unconstitutional because it effectively prevented minors from obtaining abortions. Balliro argued that the law imposed unconstitutional burdens on the right to have an abortion. The first burden, Balliro argued, was that the minor had to obtain the consent of two parents. The law had provisions for circumstances where there was a single parent due to death or desertion, but the law made no exception for other extenuating circumstances, like in the case of Moe. In Bellotti v. Baird, Moe was pregnant and seeking an abortion at the time of the initial court proceedings and did not want to tell her parents about her pregnancy because her parents had hostile views about abortion and her father had threatened to kill her boyfriend if she became pregnant. Under the Massachusetts law, parents could deny their consent to an abortion arbitrarily, which meant that even if a physician considered the abortion medically necessary, one or both parents could refuse their consent and prevent the minor from obtaining an abortion.

The second burden, Balliro argued, was what Balliro termed judicial override. A judge could override the parents and grant the minor consent for an abortion once the judge determined the minor was mature enough to make that decision. However, the judge also had the power to decline a minor’s request for an abortion even if the judge had determined that the minor was mature enough to make the decision on her own. Balliro argued that the law allowed judges to potentially deny a minor an abortion without cause, which was unconstitutional.

Baird’s other attorney, Henn, provided arguments for Baird as well. Henn based his arguments on the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the US Constitution. The equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment grants all citizens equal protection under the law and ensures that laws treat citizens impartially. Henn argued that the Massachusetts law was unconstitutional because it treated minors seeking an abortion more strictly than minors seeking any other medical procedure. According to Henn, that violated the Fourteenth Amendment because it created an arbitrary distinction between minors seeking medical procedures and minors seeking abortions. Minors seeking other medical procedures, such as limb amputation, needed the consent of only one parent, whereas the Massachusetts law required a minor seeking an abortion to obtain the consent of both her parents.

Supreme Court judge White filed a dissenting opinion that disagreed with the majority opinion. He argued that it was in the best interests of a minor for her parents to participate in the decision to terminate the pregnancy, and that a minor’s parents should be notified if the minor seeks permission for an abortion by going before a judge.

The Supreme Court’s ruling on Bellotti v. Baird affirmed that a woman’s right to an abortion was not contingent upon her age, and that the rights guaranteed by the US Constitution applied to adults as well as minors. The Court’s decision in Bellotti v. Baird became a precedent, meaning that future laws could not restrict the right of minors by requiring parental or judicial consent for an abortion. The ruling affirmed that a woman’s choice to have an abortion or to carry a pregnancy to term, whether she was a minor or an adult, was a personal decision that could not be subjected to the veto of a third party, in this case that of her parents or a judge.


The Court found the statute unconstitutional for two reasons. First, it allowed judicial authorization for an abortion to be withheld from a minor who is mature and competent enough to make the decision independently. Second, it required parental notification in all cases (parents were required to be notified if their daughter initiated proceedings in superior court) without allowing the minor to seek an independent judicial assessment of her competence to decide the abortion issue.