Doe v. Bolton

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Doe v. Bolton
Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svg
Argued December 13, 1971
Reargued October 11, 1972
Decided January 22, 1973
Full case name ‘Mary Doe’
Arthur K. Bolton, Attorney General of Georgia, et al.
Citations 410 U.S. 179 (more)
The three procedural conditions in 26-1202 (b) of Ga. Criminal Code violate the Fourteenth Amendment.
Court membership
Case opinions
Majority Blackmun, joined by Burger, Douglas, Brennan, Stewart, Marshall, Powell
Concurrence Burger
Concurrence Douglas
Dissent White, joined by Rehnquist
Dissent Rehnquist

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). Doe v. Bolton challenged Georgia's much more liberal abortion statute.[1]


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 three-member special committee that either (1) continued pregnancy would endanger the pregnant woman's life or "seriously and permanently" injure her health; (2) the fetus would "very likely be born with a grave, permanent and irremediable mental or physical defect"; or (3) the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest.[1][2] 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 in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia. 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.[3]

On October 14, 1970, a three-judge panel of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia consisting of Northern District of Georgia Judges Albert John Henderson, Sidney Oslin Smith Jr., and Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Lewis Render Morgan unanimously declared the conditional restrictions portion of the law unconstitutional, though upheld the medical approval and residency requirements.[4] The court also declined to issue an injunction against enforcement of the law, similarly to the district court in the case Roe v. Wade. 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.

Opinion of the Court[edit]

The same 7-2 majority 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. The Court reiterated the protected "right to privacy," which applied to matters involving marriage, procreation, contraception, family relationships, child rearing, and education.[1] Justice Harry A. Blackmun wrote the majority opinion for the Court, in which he explained "the sensitive and emotional nature" of the issue and "the deep and seemingly absolute convictions" on both sides.[2] Justice Blackmun went on to conclude that as a constitutional matter, the right to privacy was "broad enough to encompass a woman's decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy."[2][1]

Together, Doe and Roe declared abortion as a constitutional right and overturned most laws against abortion in other U.S. states. Roe legalized abortion nationwide for approximately the first six months of pregnancy until the point of fetal viability.[1]

Broad definition of health[edit]

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.

Subsequent developments[edit]

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.[5] The district court denied her motion, and she appealed. When the appeals court also denied her motion,[6] she requested review by the United States Supreme Court. However, the Supreme Court declined to hear Sandra Cano's suit to overturn the ruling.[7] Sandra Cano died on September 30, 2014.[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e Goldstein, Leslie (1994). Contemporary Cases in Women's Rights. Madison: The University of Wisonsin. pp. 16–17. 
  2. ^ a b c Cushman, Clare (2001). Supreme Court Decisions and Women's Rights. Washington D.C.: CQ Press. p. 189. 
  3. ^ White, Gayle. "Roe v. Wade Role Just a Page in Rocky Life Story", The Atlanta Journal and Constitution (2003-01-22).
  4. ^ Doe v. Bolton, 319 F. Supp. 1048 (N.D. Ga. 1970).
  5. ^ “'Mary Doe' of Doe v. Bolton Files Motion To Overturn Companion Case to Roe v. Wade”, Kaiser Daily Reproductive Health Report, (2003-08-27).
  6. ^ Cano v. Baker, 435 F.3d 1337 (11th Cir. 2006).
  7. ^ Mears, Bill. "Court won't rethink 'Mary Doe' abortion case", CNN (2006-10-10).
  8. ^ Cheryl Wetzstein, "Sandra Cano, the 'Mary Doe' of Landmark Abortion Case, Dies: Spent Her Life Fighting Abortion", Washington Times, Wednesday, October 1, 2014.

External links[edit]