Law School Case Brief
Doe v. Bolton - 410 U.S. 179, 93 S. Ct. 739 (1973)
Appellants that assert a sufficiently direct threat of personal detriment should not be required to await and undergo a criminal prosecution as the sole means of seeking relief.
In this case, the criminal abortion statutes recently enacted in Georgia were challenged on constitutional grounds. An indigent, married, pregnant woman, who desired but had been refused an abortion, 23 other individuals (nine physicians licensed in Georgia, seven nurses, five clergymen, and two social workers), and two nonprofit Georgia corporations that advocated abortion reform instituted an action in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, seeking a declaratory judgment that the Georgia abortion statutes were unconstitutional and an injunction against the statutes' enforcement.A three-judge District Court was convened, which court held that all the plaintiffs had standing to sue, but that only the pregnant woman's case presented a justiciable controversy.
While the District Court held invalid those portions of the statutes which limited legal abortions to specific situations requiring a showing that (1) a continuation of the pregnancy would endanger the life or seriously and permanently injure the health of the pregnant woman, or (2) the fetus would very likely be born with a grave, permanent, and irremediable mental or physical defect, or (3) the pregnancy resulted from forcible or statutory rape, as well as (4) certain other procedural or evidentiary aspects of the statute, and granted declaratory relief accordingly, it held that the state's interest in the protection of health and potential human existence justified state regulation of the abortion procedures.It therefore upheld the remainder of the statutes and denied injunctive relief. From this judgment, the plaintiffs took a direct appeal to the United States Supreme Court and an alternative appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. Plaintiffs-appellants attack on several grounds those portions of the Georgia abortion statutes that remained after the District Court decision: undue restriction of a right to personal and marital privacy; vagueness; deprivation of substantive and procedural due process; improper restriction to Georgia residents; and denial of equal protection.
Whether both the pregnant woman and the physicians had standing to sue and had presented justiciable controversies.
On appeal, the United States Supreme Court modified the judgment by setting aside the accreditation, approval, and confirmation requirements of the state's abortion statutes. The Court held that the accredited hospital provision and the requirements as to approval by the hospital abortion committee, as to confirmation by two independent physicians, and as to residence in Georgia, were are all violative of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Court affirmed the judgment as modified.
The Court held that (1) both the pregnant woman and the physicians had standing to sue and had presented justiciable controversies; (2) the Court need not pass upon the status of the additional appellants because the issues were adequately presented by the pregnant woman and the physicians; (3) a pregnant woman has no absolute constitutional right to abortion on demand; (4) the District Court correctly held unconstitutional the statute's limitation on abortions except in the three situations specified; (5) the statute which, as modified by the District Court's judgment, still permitted a physician to perform an abortion only after, using his best clinical judgment, s/he concludes that an abortion is necessary, was not unconstitutionally vague; (6) the physician's "best clinical judgment" may be exercised in the light of all factors--physical, emotional, psychological, familial, and the woman's age--relevant to his patient's well-being; (7) the statute's requirement that all abortions be performed only in hospitals accredited by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Hospitals was unconstitutional both because it was not reasonably related to the statute's purposes and because it required abortions in the first trimester to be performed in hospitals; (8) the statute's requirement that a hospital committee approve all abortions contemplated by the hospital's physicians was unduly restrictive of the patient's rights already safeguarded by her own physician; (9) the statute's requirement of concurrence by two other physicians had no rational connection with a patient's needs and unduly infringed upon the physician's right to practice; (10) the statute's limiting abortions only to Georgia residents violated the privileges and immunities clause of Article IV, 2, of the Constitution, by denying protection to persons entering Georgia for medical services; and (11) no decision was necessary as to injunctive relief.
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