Doe v. Bolton (1973): Case Summary, Ruling & Facts

Instructor: Benjamin Truitt

Benjamin has a Bachelors in philosophy and a Master's in humanities.

Decided on the same day as Roe v. Wade, Doe v. Bolton was an important decision by the Supreme Court on the rights of women to chose when it came to abortion.

The Penumbra of Rights

In the landmark case of Griswold v. Connecticut (1965), the Supreme Court established the right to privacy that was implied by the Bill of Rights in the U.S. Constitution. The case focused on whether or not Connecticut could criminalize the use of contraceptives by married couples without infringing on their privacy. Arguing for the majority, Justice William O. Douglas argued that 'Various guarantees create zones of privacy', meaning that the stated rights in the Constitution created implied rights known as a penumbra of rights. This finding would be a key precedent that would lead to the decisions in Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton.

Case Summary

In 1968, the State of Georgia expanded its existing abortion laws that prohibited its practice outside of areas of health, rape, or incest. The law's legitimacy was challenged in 1970 by Sandra Bensing when she was denied an abortion because her situation did not meet any of the requirements set out by Georgia's law. Bensing, who assumed the name Jane Doe in the case, was joined by physicians and hospital staff who argued that the law infringed on their ability to practice medicine as they saw fit and was argued before the Supreme Court on October 11th, 1972.

Ruling and Facts

The Supreme Court ruled 7-2 in favor of Doe and struck down provisions of Georgia's abortion laws on the same day that it handed down its landmark decision of Roe v. Wade. The court found that many of the restrictions on abortion by Georgia including requirements for hospital licensing requirements, consults with other doctors, and committee approval violated the right of a woman to make private medical choices concerning her reproduction. The court noted that the restrictions on abortion were unique to that procedure and failed to provide sufficient reason for such restriction. Most famously in Doe v. Bolton was the statement concerning health by Harry Blackmun, writing for the majority, concerning restrictions stating:

''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 wellbeing of the patient. All these factors may relate to health. This allows the attending physician the room he needs to make his best medical judgment. And it is room that operates for the benefit, not the disadvantage, of the pregnant woman.''

Justice Blackmun who wrote the argument for the majority
Justice Blackmun who wrote the argument for the majority

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