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Doe v. Bolton

Health Includes Physical, Emotional, And Psychological Well-being

Claiming that they were entitled to an injunction and to broader relief, the plaintiffs appealed directly to the Supreme Court. Doe v. Bolton was the companion case to Roe v. Wade (1973), the landmark case in which the Court ruled that the Fourteenth Amendment provided a fundamental right for women to obtain abortions. The Court held that the "right to privacy," assured the freedom of a person to abort unless the state had a "compelling interest" in preventing the abortion.

In Doe v. Bolton, Doe argued that the Georgia statute, as it stood after the district court's decision, was unconstitutionally vague. The law still stated that it was a crime for a doctor to perform an abortion except when it was "based upon his best clinical judgment that an abortion is necessary." Doe contended that the word "necessary" did not let physicians know what conduct was not allowed and that the statute was subject to many different interpretations. The Court responded that "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."

The Georgia abortion statute required three procedural steps of a woman wanting an abortion: the abortion had to be performed in an accredited hospital; it had to be approved by the hospital staff abortion committee; and two other physicians, besides the woman's own doctor, had to examine her and confirm the decision to abort. Doe argued that these three procedural demands unduly restricted the woman's right to privacy and denied procedural due process and equal protection. Regarding the requirement that abortions be performed in accredited hospitals, the Court stated that after the end of the first trimester of pregnancy, Georgia may adopt standards for licensing all facilities where abortions may be performed. But because the hospital requirement of the law failed to exclude the first trimester of pregnancy, that requirement was invalid. Regarding committee approval of the abortion, the Court stated, "The woman's right to receive medical care in accordance with her licensed physician's best judgment and the physician's right to administer it are substantially limited by this statutorily imposed overview." Regarding the required two physician concurrence, the Court felt that it had no rational connections with a patient's needs and unduly infringed on the physician's right to practice.

Doe attacked the Georgia residency requirement as violating the right to travel. The Court noted, "Just as the Privileges and Immunities Clause . . . protects persons who enter other states to ply their trade . . . so must it protect persons who enter Georgia seeking the medical services that are available there." Blackmun concluded the opinion by noting that the provisions of the law ruled on in this case all violated the Fourteenth Amendment.

Chief Justice Burger wrote in his concurring opinion, "I agree that, under the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, the abortion statutes of Georgia and Texas impermissibly limit the performance of abortions necessary to protect the health of pregnant women, using the term health in its broadest medical context." Burger would allow a state to require the certification of two physicians to support an abortion. He noted that the Court in this case rejected any claim that the Constitution requires abortions on demand.

Justice Douglas wrote a concurring opinion. He noted that some rights, such as the freedom of choice regarding marriage, divorce, procreation, contraception, and the education of children are subject to some control by the police power. Rights such as the freedom to care for one's health and person are fundamental but are subject to regulation on showing of "compelling state interest." Douglas noted that the Georgia abortion statute went against the idea that a woman is free to make the basic decision of whether or not to bear an unwanted child. Childbirth may deprive a woman of her preferred lifestyle and force upon her a radically different and undesired future. Women denied abortions under the Georgia law may have to abandon educational plans, lose income, forego careers, and bear the stigma of unwed motherhood. But the state also has interests to protect including the woman's health and the life of the fetus after quickening.

Douglas felt that the Georgia law resulted in the "total destruction of the right of privacy between physician and patient and the intimacy of relation which that entails. The right to seek advice on one's health and the right to place reliance on the physician of one's choice are basic to Fourteenth Amendment values."

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1973 to 1980Doe v. Bolton - Significance, Health Includes Physical, Emotional, And Psychological Well-being, The Issue Should Be Left To The People