Souter Letter Opposed Role in Parental Consent Bill

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By David S. Broder and Ruth Marcus
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, July 26, 1990

As a judge on the New Hampshire Superior Court in 1981, Supreme Court nominee David H. Souter wrote a letter on behalf of the court urging the state legislature not to enact a bill that would have forced the judges "to make fundamental moral decisions" on abortions for pregnant minors.

A leading abortion-rights advocate in the state, who solicited the letter, said it "has been a critical part of preventing passage of parental consent legislation" in New Hampshire for the last nine years.

After being contacted by state Rep. Elizabeth Hager (R), the abortion-rights supporter, Souter wrote the May 13, 1981, letter on behalf of the judges of the New Hampshire Superior Court. The letter, while specifically neutral on the question of parental consent, asked that judges on the court not be placed in the position of applying their own views to such cases.

Judicial involvement would have been necessary in order for a parental consent law to pass constitutional muster.

The Supreme Court had ruled that any law requiring a minor to receive permission from her parents to have an abortion had to give her the alternative of obtaining permission from a judge.

Hager said Souter's letter opposing the "judicial bypass" option "has been very influential" in helping kill the parental consent laws favored by abortion opponents. However, she said, "The tone of the letter clearly indicates his purpose was to defend the judicial system against the bypass, and not take a stand against the legislation."

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