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Connecticut v. Menillo (1975)

In Depth

Background

In 1971, a Connecticut jury convicted Patrick Menillo, a nonphysician who had not had any medical training, of performing an abortion upon a pregnant woman.  On appeal, the Connecticut Supreme Court held that Menillo's conviction had to be overturned on the basis of the Supreme Court's decisions in Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973), and Doe v. Bolton, 410 U.S. 179 (1973), declaring unconstitutional the Texas and Georgia abortion statutes.  The Connecticut Supreme Court held that Connecticut abortion statute stood or fell as a unit, and because it could not be enforced against physicians, it could not be enforced against nonphysician, either.

The Statue Under Review

The Connecticut statute at issue provided:

Any person who gives or administers to any woman, or advised or causes her to take or use anything, or uses any means, with intent to procure upon her a miscarriage or abortion, unless the same is necessary to preserve her life or that of her unborn child, shall be fined not more than one thousand dollars or imprisoned in the State Prison not more than five years or both.

Conn. Gen. Stat. Ann. § 53-29

The Court's Holding

In a per curiam opinion, the Court held that in holding that the Connecticut abortion statute could not be applied to nonphysician, the Connecticut Supreme Court had misinterpreted the decisions in Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton.  The judgment of the Connecticut Supreme Court was vacated and the case was remanded to that court for further consideration.

The Court's Reasoning

In Roe, the Supreme Court held that art. 1196 of the Texas Penal Code, which permitted an abortion only to save the life of the mother, unconstitutionally restricted a woman's right to an abortion.  The Court went on to say that, as a result of the unconstitutionality of art. 1196, the Texas abortion statutes had to fall "as a unit."  410 U.S. at 166.  It was based on that statement that the Connecticut Supreme Court concluded in Menillo that its abortion statute could not be applied to abortions performed by nonphysician.   The Supreme Court, however, held that the state supreme court had misinterpreted the holding in Roe.  Jane Roe had sought to have an abortion performed by a competent, licensed physician, under safe, clinical conditions and Roe "recognized only her right to an abortion under those circumstances."  Menillo, 423 U.S. at 10.

In stating that the Texas statutes "fell as a unit," the Court "meant only that they could not be enforced, with or without art.1196, in contravention of a woman's right to a clinical abortion by medically competent personnel."  Id.  In Menillo, the Supreme Court emphasized that in Roe, "We did not hold the Texas statutes unenforceable against a nonphysician abortionist, for the case did not present the issue."  Id. The Court added that "the rationale of our decision supports continued enforce ability of criminal abortion statutes against nonphysicians."  Id.

Roe teaches that a State cannot restrict a decision by a woman, with the advice of her physician, to terminate her pregnancy during the first trimester because neither its interest in maternal health nor its interest in the potential life of the fetus is sufficiently great at that stage.  But the insufficiency of the State's interest in maternal health is predicated upon the first trimester abortion's being as safe for the woman as normal childbirth at term, and that predicate holds true only if the abortion is performed by medically competent personnel under conditions insuring maximum safety for the woman.  Even during the first trimester of pregnancy, therefore, prosecutions for abortions conducted by nonphysician infringe upon no realm of personal privacy secured by the Constitution against state interference.  And after the first trimester the ever-increasing state interest in maternal health provides additional justification for such prosecutions.

Id. at 10-11 (citation omitted).

The Court concluded that, "[a]s far as this Court and the Federal Constitution are concerned, Connecticut's statute remains fully effective against performance of abortions by nonphysician."  Id. at 11.  Accordingly, the judgment of the Connecticut Supreme Court was vacated and the case was remanded to that court for further consideration in light of the Court's opinion.

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