As we mark the 47th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision, which resulted from the Supreme Court’s apparent discovery of a “right to privacy” in the U.S. Constitution, it may interest readers to know that on the same day, another infamous decision was handed down by the Burger court: Doe v. Bolton.
In this lesser-known case, Justice Blackmun wrote the majority opinion, citing the same epiphany, on the part of seven justices, that the newly enshrined right to privacy somehow trumps the right to life of the pre-born child. But before we look closely at Doe v. Bolton, let’s look at the societal context in which these tragic decisions were made.
Books have been written about the cataclysmic ’60s; but unless you lived through those years, it would be difficult to truly comprehend the rapidity of societal changes in those times. It was a veritable decade of “Future Shock,” to use the phrase coined by author Alvin Toffler, when so much change occurred in such a short period of time. It was the decade of sexual permissiveness and a loss of a societal moral compass. Psychologists like Dr. Benjamin Spock spread his revolutionary theories of downplaying discipline in the raising of children. Hippies promoted “free love” while so-called feminists clamored for the right to do what they wanted to with “their own” bodies. Contraceptives, many of which themselves were (and continue to be) abortifacients, became readily available, seemingly overnight. Thus, the slippery slope began — or perhaps, more accurately, became much steeper. By January 1973, there were three states in which abortion was permitted. One of those was Georgia.
The Georgia law permitted abortion, for Georgia residents only, in cases of rape, “fetal deformity,” or the likelihood of severe/fatal injury to the mother. There were additional restrictions which specified, inter alia, that three physicians and a small committee had to make the final determination on these exceptional cases. Enter the Doe v. Bolton case. The plaintiff, since identified as Sandra Cano, died in 2014; but over the years, following the decision, she frequently contended that (just as in Roe v. Wade) she was actually pro-life and accused her attorney, Margie Hames, of lying to her in order to have a plaintiff. She even brought motions to re-open the case, but all to no avail.
So what was so significant about Doe v. Bolton? The Supreme Court decided that the “right to privacy” applied to marriage, procreation, contraception, etc. Specifically, Justice Blackmun wrote that the “right to privacy was “broad enough to encompass a woman’s decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy.” The Georgia requirements were thrown out, and the Court asserted that “… the medical judgment may be exercised in the light of all factors — physical, emotional, psychological, familial, and the woman’s age.” The Supreme Court, with one decision, was now broadening the definition of the “health of the mother” to include all of the sad and spurious reasons that have been proffered over the last 47 years for destroying a baby in the womb, such as “I just can’t do this for nine months” or “I’m too old for this” or “I will have a nervous breakdown if I have another child.”
No childhood disease, illness or malady comes close to claiming as many victims as the intentional destruction of a baby. In fact, a mother’s womb is, alas, the most dangerous place for a child! At 1.3 million aborted babies per year in the United States alone (and more than 60 million since Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton), we will have to answer for this, collectively, as a society. May Almighty God have mercy on us.
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Tony Ambrosetti has lived in Kootenai County since he retired from the U.S. Navy in 1993. He is an instructor at the USAF Survival School, and an adjunct faculty member at North Idaho College.