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Supreme Court Asked to Consider Missouri Minor’s Abortion Rights

Oct. 6, 2022, 2:48 PM

A Missouri court clerk is asking the US Supreme Court to vacate an appeals court decision that rests on the premise that a minor has a “clearly established” right not to notify her parents before requesting a court hearing to determine if she can have an abortion.

A split US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit held that Michelle Chapman must go to trial on Jane Doe’s claim that Chapman violated her civil rights by insisting that the then-teenager’s parents be told before accepting her request for a judicial bypass procedure that would allow Doe to have an abortion without their permission.

Chapman didn’t have qualified immunity from suit because the right to judicial bypass without parental notification is clearly established under the US Constitution’s 14th Amendment, the Eighth Circuit said. But the reasoning behind that decision has been undermined, Chapman said in her petition for Supreme Court review.

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

The Supreme Court overruled Casey on June 24 in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization and held that there is no federal constitutional right to end a pregnancy before viability, Chapman said. The question now is whether the right to judicial bypass without parental notification “even exists,” she said.

There is no need for the top court to decide that issue, Chapman added. Because Dobbs was handed down while the appeal in this case was pending, the proper remedy is for the court to vacate the decision and remand the case to the Eighth Circuit, she said.

Chapman invoked qualified immunity in Doe’s suit, which was based on Chapman’s statement that Doe’s parents must be told if she filed a judicial bypass petition. Qualified immunity shields public officials from liability for exercising their official duties, but it doesn’t apply when an official violated a clearly established right—one that a reasonable person in her position would have known about and understood, the trial court said in denying Chapman’s motion.

The Eighth Circuit panel affirmed that decision, with one judge dissenting based on his view that Chapman had absolute judicial immunity from suit because she was just following a juvenile court judge’s directions.

The petition was placed on the Supreme Court’s docket Oct. 4. Doe’s response is due Nov. 3.

The Missouri Attorney General’s Office represents Chapman. The American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri represented Doe in the Eighth Circuit.

Abortion currently is prohibited in Missouri except in medical emergencies.

The case is Chapman v. Doe, U.S., No. 22-312, petition for review docketed 10/4/22.

To contact the reporter on this story: Mary Anne Pazanowski in Washington at mpazanowski@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rob Tricchinelli at rtricchinelli@bloomberglaw.com; Carmen Castro-Pagán at ccastro-pagan@bloomberglaw.com