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Rust v. Sullivan

    Citation. 500 U.S. 173, 111 S. Ct. 1759, 114 L. Ed. 2d 233, 1991 U.S.

    Brief Fact Summary. The Respondent, Sullivan (Respondent), instituted regulations that prohibited federal monies to be used to educate Medicaid recipients about abortion as a family planning option.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. The government can selectively fund programs without violating the United States Constitution (Constitution), if it believes the funded programs encourage certain activities it believes are in the public interest.


    Facts. In 1988, the Respondent promulgated new regulations that prohibited federal monies from being used to counsel Medicaid recipients about abortion as a method of family planning.

    Issue. Does this restriction violate the First Amendment of the Constitution by prohibiting certain content-based discussions from occurring?
    Does the restriction condition the receipt of a benefit on the relinquishment of a constitutional right?

    Held. No. The government may choose to fund one program at the exclusion of another. The legislature’s decision not to subsidize the exercise of a fundamental right, does not infringe upon the right.
    No. The regulations do not require recipients to forfeit rights. Instead, they mandate that the activities be kept separate and distinct from the funded program.

    Dissent. These are unconstitutional content-based regulations of speech that place obstacles in the way of a woman’s freedom to choose abortion as a means of family planning.

    Discussion. These decisions are not content-based restrictions on speech. Instead, the focus is on the scope of the program in question. Family planning counseling does not, by definition, include abortion. By this same reasoning, prenatal care discussions are also prohibited in these programs.

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