It Isn’t Just Roe v. Wade, It Is Doe v. Bolton Too

Roe v. Wade was not the only case back in 1973 that made abortions legal at a Federal level; no, there was another case that went along with it, a case that in fact might be more of a lynchpin towards ‘normalizing’ abortion as a woman’s health issue than Roe v. Wade ever was. The case was: Doe v. Bolton. It was this case, a case where the decision was handed down the same day as fetusRoe, that expanded the reasons for why a woman could get an abortion; essentially reducing abortion down to a matter, again, of the woman’s health, which included using it as birth control etc. J.P. Moreland and Scott Rae give us the background information here:

Since 1973, with the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision, abortion has been legal throughout the entire nine months of pregnancy. The Court in Roe arbitrarily divided up the nine months of pregnancy into trimesters with increasing protections for the unborn in the last trimester. In the first trimester, abortion on demand is legal. In the second trimester, the state can place restrictions on access to abortion in order to safeguard the health of pregnant woman. These include restricting the availability of abortion to licensed medical facilities and requiring them to be performed by licensed physicians. It is widely perceived in the culture at large that abortion is only legal up until the point of viability or, at the time of the Roe decision, roughly at the end of the second trimester. What is not widely known, however, is that on the same day that the Supreme Court handed down the Roe decision, it also handed down another abortion decision, Doe v. Bolton, which expanded the availability of abortion beyond what Roe by itself provides. The Doe decision expanded the exception clause in Roe that allowed for postviability, or third trimester, abortions in cases in which the life or health of the mother was in jeopardy. The Doe decision expanded the notion of the health of the mother in a way that could be interpreted to justify abortion for virtually any reason. The Court interpreted the health of the mother to include more than simply her physical health. It also included her psychological and emotional health, and it could be construed to include her financial health as well. The Court put it this way:

That statute [the Georgia law in question] has been construed to bear upon the psychological as well as physical well being [of the mother]…. We agree that the judgment [of the mother’s physician, as to whether continuing the pregnancy constitutes a threat to the mother’s health] may be exercised in 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 [of the pregnant woman].

Thus if in the judgment of the mother’s physician any of these factors, which include much more than simply medical indications, are present, a postviability abortion would be legal. Not only are the factors broadened well beyond medical indications—aspects of a woman’s health that here physician is not trained to assess—but also the judgment is the physician’s alone. The physician can authorize a postviability abortion for virtually any reason, ranging from a threat to the life of the mother (which rarely occurs today) to a range of nonmedical reasons that could include the mother’s financial ability to raise the child in question (familial factors, as cited by the Court). The well-publicized late-term, partial-birth abortion method is often used in these third tri-mester abortions, and though it is widely claimed that these are only performed when the women’s life or health is at risk, it is well documented that the majority of partial-birth abortions are performed for birth-control reasons and are not based on the risks of continuing the pregnancy to the mother. The combination of the Roe and Doe decisions opened the door to abortion on demand at virtually any point in pregnancy.[1]

The latest on the Planned Parenthood exposure should be understood from within its historical and juridical context. In other words, these revelations about PP’s trafficking in human body parts is all possible because of a prior reality; i.e. the legality of abortions in the United States of America since 1973 provided for by both the Roe and Doe cases.

[1] J.P. Moreland and Scott B. Rae, Body&Soul: Human Nature& the Crisis in Ethics (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 237-38.

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4 comments

  1. I teach a section on Sanctity of Life every year and it is horrifying to realize the number of murdered children since 1973 – it goes WAY beyond every death in every war ever fought combined. We are a sick nation and more churches need to wake up to the fact that this is an area that must be addressed constantly.

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  2. It is a violent and horrible reality but not the only one. Why I’m hesitant to beat this drum and no other is because it is the cause-celebre among the right-wing. But if we are called to be pro-life (and we are), we ought to resist also the dehumanizing economic system we live in (what we call the Market ideology), and the brutal and blood-soaked idea of an American Century, which as an Imperial ambition is the motivation for so much bloodshed across the world, in the name of National Security and National Interest.

    Let us lament the babes, but let us lament the babes of the world. Whether it’s a child who is forced to enter a Walmart sweat-shop, the dead dreams of a retail wage-slave, or the murdered bodies of “collateral damage” from Drone strikes, we ought to pray judgment and lamentation for all the world’s children.

    cal

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