The Indefensible Decisions of 'Roe' and 'Doe'

January 2013 marked the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade.  Many refer to Roe v. Wade as the hallmark of abortion law. To be completely accurate, however, it was two landmark cases decided simultaneously that rule abortion law in the United States today.

Roe v. Wade reached the Supreme Court on appeal in 1970. The Court delayed action on Roe and a companion case, Doe v. Bolton for a later time.  On January 22, 1973 two Supreme Court decisions, Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton, struck down any and all existing state laws prohibiting abortion, some that were over a century old.

Roe essentially cleared a path for legalized abortion in the first three months of pregnancy, before viability.  The Court's opinion in Doe, however, allowed a woman to obtain an abortion after viability for “health reasons”.  This “health” exception included physical, emotional, psychological, familial, and the woman's age, which broadened the path to include abortion for any reason during the full nine months of pregnancy.

Justice Byron White, the senior dissenting justice, wrote, “I find nothing in the language or history of the Constitution to support the Court's judgment. The Court simply fashions and announces a new constitutional right for pregnant women and, with scarcely any reason or authority for its action, invests that right with sufficient substance to override most existing state abortion statutes”.

Justice White criticized the Court for involving itself in this issue by creating "a constitutional barrier to state efforts to protect human life and by investing mothers and doctors with the constitutionally protected right to exterminate it."

Other dissenting justices wrote that decisions about abortion "should be left with the people and to the political processes the people have devised to govern their affairs."

Others simply said that the rulings bordered on the “indefensible”.

Since 1973, the Supreme Court has issued more than 30 abortion-related rulings, including several that have upheld the constitutionality of state laws that regulate and limit abortion, including:   parental notification laws, laws barring state funding for abortions, laws banning partial-birth abortion, laws requiring waiting periods before abortion, and laws that mandate certain education aspects of the procedure, including ultrasound, among others.

As with many situations, there is good news and bad news here.

The bad news:

40 years have come and gone since the Roe/Doe decisions establishing the right to abortion.  Several generations have never known a time without legalized abortion. Many are unaware of what Roe v Wade or Doe v Bolton even was or that abortion is available during all nine months of pregnancy!

The good news:

Increasing numbers identify themselves as pro-life. Through advances in science and technology, including ultrasound, we have become intimately acquainted with “life before birth”. Though the courts in Roe and Doe rejected a fetal “right to life” argument, we are more and more aware of the intrinsic humanity of the preborn child.

Changing hearts and minds is the key to ending abortion as we know it.  Perhaps the best examples of change come from Roe and Doe themselves.

Norma McCorvey, ‘Roe’ of Roe v Wade, and Sandra Cano, ‘Doe’ of Doe v Bolton, have strikingly similar stories.  They were young, poor, and uneducated – and overwhelmed with an untimely pregnancy.  Used by the men in their lives, they would be used yet again by feminist lawyers working to challenge the existing abortion laws.

Each of these women is now pro-life and speaks boldly against abortion. Norma McCorvey and Sandra Cano, like so many, grieve over the decisions tied to the killing of some 55,000,000 preborn children since 1973.

Norma McCorvey has testified multiple times before Congress about the injustice of abortion and deceit underlying Roe v. Wade.

Sandra Cano stated in her testimony before a Congressional hearing that Doe v Bolton is based on a lie and deceit.  “It needs to be retried or overturned,” she declared.

These brave women should serve as an encouragement for all life supporters to stay engaged and to stay the course.  Life is indeed precious and worhty of protection - at all levels.  If you are wondering what YOU can do, let Georgia Right to Life help you get  plugged in for LIFE!


By Suzanne L. Ward
Education/Public Relations