Doe v. Bolton

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Doe v. Bolton  (1973) 

Doe v. Bolton, was a landmark 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).

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Supreme Court of the United States

410 U.S. 179

Doe  v.  Bolton

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia

No. 70-40  Argued: December 13, 1971; Reargued October 11, 1972 --- Decided: January 22, 1973

Georgia law proscribes an abortion except as performed by a duly licensed Georgia physician when necessary in "his best clinical judgment" because continued pregnancy would endanger a pregnant woman's life or injure her health; the fetus would likely be born with a serious defect; or the pregnancy resulted from rape. § 26-1202 (a) of Ga. Criminal Code. In addition to a requirement that the patient be a Georgia resident and certain other requirements, the statutory scheme poses three procedural conditions in § 26-1202 (b): (1) that the abortion be performed in a hospital accredited by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Hospitals (JCAH); (2) that the procedure be approved by the hospital staff abortion committee; and (3) that the performing physician's judgment be confirmed by independent examinations of the patient by two other licensed physicians. Appellant Doe, an indigent married Georgia citizen, who was denied an abortion after eight weeks of pregnancy for failure to meet any of the § 26-1202 (a) conditions, sought declaratory and injunctive relief, contending that the Georgia laws were unconstitutional. Others joining in the complaint included Georgia-licensed physicians (who claimed that the Georgia statutes "chilled and deterred" their practices), registered nurses, clergymen, and social workers. Though holding that all the plaintiffs had standing, the District Court ruled that only Doe presented a justiciable controversy. In Doe's case the court gave declaratory, but not injunctive, relief, invalidating as an infringement of privacy and personal liberty the limitation to the three situations specified in § 26-1202 (a) and certain other provisions but holding that the State's interest in health protection and the existence of a "potential of independent human existence" justified regulation through 26-1202 (b) of the "manner of performance as well as the quality of the final decision to abort." The appellants, claiming entitlement to broader relief, directly appealed to this Court. Held:

1. Doe's case presents a live, justiciable controversy and she has standing to sue, Roe v. Wade, ante, p. 113, as do the physician-appellants [p. 180] (who, unlike the physician in Wade, were not charged with abortion violations), and it is therefore unnecessary to resolve the issue of the other appellants' standing. Pp. 187-189.

2. A woman's constitutional right to an abortion is not absolute. Roe v. Wade, supra. P. 189.

3. The requirement that a physician's decision to perform an abortion must rest upon "his best clinical judgment" of its necessity is not unconstitutionally vague, since that judgment may be made in the light of all the attendant circumstances. United States v. Vuitch, 402 U.S. 62, 71 -72. Pp. 191-192.

4. The three procedural conditions in § 26-1202 (b) violate the Fourteenth Amendment. Pp. 192-200.

(a) The JCAH-accreditation requirement is invalid, since the State has not shown that only hospitals (let alone those with JCAH accreditation) meet its interest in fully protecting the patient; and a hospital requirement failing to exclude the first trimester of pregnancy would be invalid on that ground alone, see Roe v. Wade, supra. Pp. 193-195.

(b) The interposition of a hospital committee on abortion, a procedure not applicable as a matter of state criminal law to other surgical situations, is unduly restrictive of the patient's rights, which are already safeguarded by her personal physician. Pp. 195-198.

5. The Georgia residence requirement violates the Privileges and Immunities Clause by denying protection to persons who enter Georgia for medical services there. P. 200.

6. Appellants' equal protection argument centering on the three procedural conditions in § 26-1202 (b), invalidated on other grounds, is without merit. Pp. 200-201.

7. No ruling is made on the question of injunctive relief. Cf. Roe v. Wade, supra. P. 201.

319 F. Supp. 1048, modified and affirmed.

Blackmun, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Burger, C. J., and Douglas, Brennan, Stewart, Marshall, and Powell joined. Burger, C. J., and Douglas, J., filed concurring opinions. White, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Rehnquist, J., joined. Rehnquist, J., filed a dissenting opinion.

[p. 181] Margie Pitts Hames reargued the cause for appellants. With her on the briefs were Reber F. Boult, Jr., Charles Morgan, Jr., Elizabeth Roediger Rindskopf, and Tobiane Schwartz.

Dorothy T. Beasley reargued the cause for appellees. With her on the brief were Arthur K. Bolton, Attorney General of Georgia, Harold N. Hill, Jr., Executive Assistant Attorney General, Courtney Wilder Stanton, Assistant Attorney General, Joel Feldman, Henry L. Bowden, and Ralph H. Witt.[1]


  1. . Briefs of amici curiae were filed by Roy Lucas for the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists et al.; by Dennis J. Horan, Jerome A. Frazel, Jr., Thomas M. Crisham, and Delores V. Horan for Certain Physicians, Professors and Fellows of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology; by Harriet F. Pilpel, Nancy F. Wechsler, and Frederic S. Nathan for Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Inc., et al.; by Alan F. Charles for the National Legal Program on Health Problems of the Poor et al.; by Marttie L. Thompson for State Communities Aid Assn.; by Alfred L. Scanlan, Martin J. Flynn, and Robert M. Byrn for the National Right to Life Committee; by Helen L. Buttenwieser for the American Ethical Union et al.; by Norma G. Zarky for the American Association of University Women et al.; by Nancy Stearns for New Women Lawyers et al.; by the California Committee to Legalize Abortion et al.; by Robert E. Dunne for Robert L. Sassone; and by Ferdinand Buckley pro se.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).

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