The Reality of Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton
On January 22, 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down two life-changing decisions, Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton. Together these decisions by unelected justices drastically changed the abortion laws of all fifty states, blocking numerous laws protecting the lives of unborn children.
Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton were both decided by a 7-2 vote. Justice Harry Blackmun wrote the majority opinions, joined by Chief Justice Burger and Justices Brennan, Stewart, Marshall and Powell. Justices White and Rehnquist wrote dissenting opinions.
Roe v. Wade specifically set up a trimester framework for future abortion laws. In the first trimester of pregnancy, the state had to leave the abortion decision entirely to a woman and her physician.
During the second trimester, the state could only enact laws which regulate abortions in ways “reasonably related to maternal health.” This meant that a state may determine who is qualified to perform the abortion and where such an operation may take place. The state could not, however, enact laws that safeguarded the lives of the unborn.
In the third trimester the law could forbid women to have an abortion, unless the abortion is necessary to preserve her “life or health.” In Doe v. Bolton, Roe’s companion case, the Supreme Court defined the word “health” in such broad terms that it is virtually impossible for a state to protect the unborn. The majority opinion of Doe v. Bolton stated, “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.”
These two decisions disregarded legal tradition, biological evidence, and the ethical traditions of a majority of Americans. They struck down the abortion laws of all 50 states and made abortion-on-demand throughout all nine months of pregnancy the law of the land. These horrible decisions gave the United States the dubious distinction at the time of having the most permissive abortion law of any nation in western civilization.
A report of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee in 1982 summed up these findings: “As a result of the Roe decision, a right to abortion was effectively established for the entire term of pregnancy for virtually any reason, whether for the sake of personal finances, social convenience, or individual lifestyle … Thus, the Committee observes that no significant legal barriers of any kind whatsoever exist today in the United States for a woman to obtain an abortion for any reason during any stage of her pregnancy.”
Eminent legal scholars who support abortion agree that Roe v. Wade was based on fictitious legal theory. John Hart Ely said, “What is frightening about Roe is that this super-protected right is not inferable from the language of the Constitution, the framers’ thinking respecting the specific problem in issue, any general value derivable from the provisions they included, or the nation’s governmental structure.” Laurence Tribe said, “One of the most curious things about Roe is that, behind its own verbal smokescreen, the substantive judgment on which it rests is nowhere to be found.”
Roe v. Wade was revisited in 1992 in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, but was upheld despite it’s indefensible reasoning. The trimester framework was replaced by an “undue burden test” to see if abortion regulations place a “substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion before the fetus attains viability.” This new undue burden test at the point of viability (which is growing earlier in pregnancy as medical advances are made) allowed several prolife laws such as parental consent and informed consent before abortion to be upheld.
Behind the anonymous names of these cases were two women who went on to be vocal prolife activists. Norma McCorvey was the Roe of Roe v. Wade. Sandra Cano was the Doe of Doe v. Bolton. Both were used by pro-abortion lawyers. Both asked the U.S. Supreme Court to rehear their cases, but the justices refused to hear them directly now that their stories had produced the result the Court demanded. Both Norma and Sandra have since passed away.
On June 24, 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court finally overturned Roe v. Wade in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. Abortion laws were finally once again returned to the states and voters to decide.