Rust v. Sullivan
500 U.S. 173 (1991)

  • In the Public Health Service Act (aka Title X) Congress prohibited Federal funds from being used for abortions. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued new regulations that prohibited projects receiving these funds from not only providing abortions, but also counseling, advising, or promoting the idea that a woman seek an abortion (known as the “gag rule”).
    • The regulation did allow for money to be used to promote abstinence and adoption services.
  • Pro-choice groups (led by Rust) sued, arguing that the regulation was an unconstitutional infringement of the 1st Amendment’s right to free speech.
    • They also argued that it violated the 4th Amendment by interfering with privacy, and the 5th Amendment right to have an abortion established by Roe v. Wade (410 U.S. 113 (1973)).
  • The Trial Court found for HHS. Rust appealed.
  • The Appellate Court affirmed. Rust appealed.
  • The US Supreme Court affirmed.
    • The US Supreme Court found that Title X was ambiguous with regards to the use of Federal funds for abortion counseling. Therefore, the courts should defer to the Administrative Agency to interpret the regulation.
      • That’s the Chevron Doctrine (See Chevron U.S.A., Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., 467 U.S. 837 (1984))
      • “Regulations promulgated by the Secretary do not raise the sort of ‘grave and doubtful constitutional questions’ that would lead us to assume Congress did not intend to authorize their issuance.”
    • The Court noted that people were still free to advocate pro-choice messages all they wanted, they just couldn’t do it within the scope of a project funded by Title X.
  • This case mostly turned on the idea of deference to Administrative Agencies, but it did hold that a denial of Federal funding does not rise to the level of a denial of free speech under the 1st Amendment.