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Rust v. Sullivan


Rust proved to be an indicator of the Court's shifting attitudes toward abortion, as well as a major pronouncement about the doctrine of unconstitutional spending, which holds that federal funds may only be spent on those purposes for which they are allocated.

In 1988, Secretary of Health and Human Services Louis W. Sullivan issued regulations preventing family-planning services which received federal funds under the Public Service Act's Title X from dispensing any information about abortion. Irving Rust was just one of the clinic directors and doctors who filed suit to prevent the regulations from going into effect. These plaintiffs challenged the "gag rule" as both a violation of the First Amendment guarantee of free speech and an unconstitutional attempt to interfere with the right to abortion upheld in Roe v. Wade (1973). After these suits failed in the federal district courts and were similarly defeated on appeal, Rust and others petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court for review. The Supreme Court consolidated the cases and decided them as one.

Roe v. Wade has proven to be one of the most controversial decisions ever handed down by the Court. Much of the legal wrangling has centered on control of the federal funds which Congress allocated in 1970 to support family planning clinics. The Public Health Service Act stipulated that none of these funds could be used to support programs where abortion was used as a method of birth control. Between 1971 and 1986, government regulations prevented the clinics from providing abortions. In 1986, new rules strictly divided those clinics receiving federal funds from abortion providers. Then in 1988, towards the end of President Ronald Reagan's second term, his conservative administration imposed the "gag rule."

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1989 to 1994Rust v. Sullivan - Significance, Supreme Court Rejects Challenges To The "gag Rule" On Federally Funded Family Planning Clinics