United States v. Vuitch

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United States v. Vuitch
Seal of the United States Supreme Court
Argued January 12, 1971
Decided April 21, 1971
Full case nameUnited States v. Vuitch
Citations402 U.S. 62 (more)
91 S. Ct. 1294; 28 L. Ed. 2d 601; 1971 U.S. LEXIS 50
Case history
Prior305 F. Supp. 1032 (D.D.C. 1969)
The abortion statute of the District of Columbia, banning abortion except when necessary for the health or life of the woman, is not unconstitutionally vague.
Court membership
Chief Justice
Warren E. Burger
Associate Justices
Hugo Black · William O. Douglas
John M. Harlan II · William J. Brennan Jr.
Potter Stewart · Byron White
Thurgood Marshall · Harry Blackmun
Case opinions
MajorityBlack, joined by Burger, White (in full); Douglas, Stewart (Part I (jurisdiction)); Harlan, Blackmun (Part II (merits))
DissentDouglas (as to merits)
DissentHarlan, joined by Brennan, Marshall, Blackmun (as to jurisdiction)
DissentStewart (as to merits)
DissentBlackmun (as to jurisdiction)

United States v. Vuitch, 402 U.S. 62 (1971), was a United States Supreme Court abortion rights case, which held that the District of Columbia's abortion law banning the practice except when necessary for the health or life of the woman was not unconstitutionally vague.[1]


Milan Vuitch, an abortion provider in the District of Columbia, had several times come under suit for providing abortion services that the government deemed not necessary for the life or health of the woman, in accordance with the DC law. Vuitch challenged the law as being unconstitutionally vague with regard to the term "health." Federal District Judge Gerhard A. Gesell agreed, dismissing Vuitch's indictment and ruling that the law failed to give the sufficient certainty required by due process of law in criminal matters.[2][3]

Gesell's finding was the first federal court decision declaring an abortion law unconstitutional.[3]


There were two questions before the court: firstly, whether the Supreme Court had jurisdiction to decide the case, and secondly, whether the D.C. law was unconstitutionally vague. On the first question, Justice Black, joined by Burger, Douglas, Stewart, and Byron White, held that they could. On the second question, Harlan and Blackmun, although dissenting in jurisdiction, joined Black on the merits, while Douglas and Stewart joined Brennan and Marshall in dissent.[1]

On the merits, Black held that "health" was not vague, since lower courts had construed it fairly concretely to mean physical as well as psychological health. Although this was the final (as well as the first) abortion case prior to Roe, only Justice Douglas, writing in dissent, suggested the existence of a general right to abortion as part of a broader right to privacy. This view would be embraced by seven justices in Roe two years later.


Vuitch lost in the sense that the statute was ruled not "vague"; the district court's decision was overturned and Vuitch could be prosecuted.[4] However, the decision treated abortion as a surgical option not fundamentally different from any other, and the Court seemed to care most about sufficient leeway being given to a doctor's professional judgement.[5]

The justices voted to hear Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton, other abortion cases, the day after Vuitch's opinion was announced.[5]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b United States v. Vuitch, 402 U.S. 62 (1971).
  2. ^ United States v. Vuitch, 305 F. Supp. 1032 (D.D.C. 1969).
  3. ^ a b Greenhouse, Linda. Becoming Justice Blackmun. Times Books. 2005. Page 75.
  4. ^ Greenhouse, Linda. Becoming Justice Blackmun. Times Books. 2005. Page 77.
  5. ^ a b Greenhouse, Linda. Becoming Justice Blackmun. Times Books. 2005. Page 78.

External links[edit]