Legal Analysis of Doe v. Bolton
Doe v. Bolton, 410 U.S. 179 (1973), was a decision of the United States Supreme Court overturning the abortion law of Georgia. The Supreme Court’s decision was released on January 22, 1973, the same day as the decision in the better-known case of Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973).
THE HISTORY OF THE CASE
The Georgia law in question permitted abortion only in cases of rape, severe fetal deformity, or the possibility of severe or fatal injury to the mother. Other restrictions included the requirement that the procedure be approved in writing by three physicians and by a special committee of the staff of the hospital where the abortion was to be performed. In addition, only Georgia residents could receive abortions under this statutory scheme: non-residents could not have an abortion in Georgia under any circumstances.
The plaintiff, a pregnant woman who was given the pseudonym “Mary Doe” in court papers to protect her identity, sued Arthur K. Bolton, then the Attorney General of Georgia, as the official responsible for enforcing the law. The anonymous plaintiff has since been identified as Sandra Cano, a 22-year-old mother of three who was nine weeks pregnant at the time the lawsuit was filed. Cano describes herself as pro-life and claims her attorney, Margie Pitts Hames, lied to her in order to have a plaintiff.
A three-judge panel of the United States district court declared the conditional restrictions portion of the law unconstitutional, but upheld the medical approval and residency requirements, and refused to issue an injunction against enforcement of the law. The plaintiff appealed to the Supreme Court under a statute, since repealed, permitting bypass of the circuit appeals court.
The oral arguments and re-arguments followed the same schedule as those in Roe. Atlanta attorney Hames represented Doe at the hearings, while Georgia assistant attorney general Dorothy Toth Beasley represented Bolton.
The same 7-2 majority (Justices White and Rehnquist dissenting) that struck down a Texas abortion law in Roe v. Wade, invalidated most of the remaining restrictions of the Georgia abortion law, including the medical approval and residency requirements. Together, Doe and Roe declared abortion as a constitutional right and by implication overturned most laws against abortion in other US states.
The Court’s opinion in Doe v. Bolton stated that a woman may obtain an abortion after viability, if necessary to protect her health. The Court defined “health” as follows:
|“||Whether, in the words of the Georgia statute, “an abortion is necessary” is a professional judgment that the Georgia physician will be called upon to make routinely. We agree with the District Court, 319 F. Supp., at 1058, that the medical judgment may be exercised in the light of all factors – physical, emotional, psychological, familial, and the woman’s age – relevant to the well-being of the patient. All these factors may relate to health.||”|
LITIGATION 30 YEARS LATER
In 2003, Sandra Cano filed a motion to re-open the case claiming that she had not been aware that the case had been filed on her behalf and that if she had known she would not have supported the litigation. The district court denied her motion, and she appealed. When the appeals court also denied her motion,she requested review by the United States Supreme Court. However, the Supreme Court declined to hear Sandra Cano’s suit to overturn the ruling.