Wednesday, January 5, 2011

I know you've heard of Roe....but what about Doe?

Why is it that our collective unconscious has associated all abortion rights with the landmark Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade while no one remembers the case of Doe v. Bolton that occurred the very same year? I admit, I hadn't heard of this ground breaking Supreme Court ruling until I was about 19, and I did so because I was independently researching reproductive rights (naturally this is a topic of personal interest to me). Well I for one think it's high time we all gave credit to this case, so gather round faithful readers, and I'll tell you the story of how the brave “Mary Doe” defeated the evil Arthur Bolton!

Okay, okay, that's not really what happened. “Mary Doe” (aka Sandra Cano) was a poor mother who had already had run ins with social services and was attempting to raise her children on her own as the father was incarcerated at the time. When she became pregnant again and the state of Georgia prevented her from aborting because she was in the later stages of pregnancy, she filed a court case with a lawyer who she later claimed misled her. Georgia's laws at the time were very strict and mandated proof of residency (which would unfairly prevent homeless people or those without documentation from obtaining abortions), written approval from not one but three physicians, and approval by the hospital staff abortion committee. I wonder if every hospital even had the resources to have a dedicated committee to inquire about every request for abortions. Here is a link to the appeal itself:

The 7-2 Supreme Court decision that took place in 1973 over-ruled several Georgia laws that limited access to abortion in later stages of pregnancy. It defined health risks to the mother that would justify a third trimester abortion, namely those that could fatal if the fetus is not removed. The court also recognized “physical, emotional, psychological, familial, and the woman's age” as potential factors that a physician could take into account when deciding if the woman is healthy enough to give birth.

So Cano claims that she never understood the circumstances surrounding her court case and has always been “pro-life”. In fact, she never even had an abortion, she backed out days before her procedure was scheduled. Ironically both Sandra Cano and Norma McCorvey (of Roe v. Wade fame) are now staunch anti-choice activists. Confused? You're not alone. According to Cano, she didn't know why she was suing Attorney General Arthur Bolton. I honestly don't understand how someone can go through all the rigamarole of a district court case followed by an appeal to the Supreme Court and not know what they are doing or why they are doing it. It just doesn't make sense, even after reading interviews with her I have to conclude that she is either lying because she later regretted her decision and wants to absolve herself of the guilt she is masochistically putting herself through, or she is just so ignorant that she is actually capable of suing someone, signing documents, talking to lawyers etc. without knowing why. I doubt it.

When a fetus is farther along in development and even potentially viable outside of the womb the whole idea of terminating the pregnancy is a harder pill to swallow, even for me. But while abortions that take place in the third trimester are extremely controversial I think that if the life of a grown person with friends, family, emotions, responsibilities, thoughts and memories is quite frankly more important than the potential life of a new person with no strings attached to this existence. Doe v. Bolton made late term abortions available to women when it is necessary. Even if Sandra Cano doesn't appreciate what she has done for women I do. Thanks!

I think this issue is fascinating because it's such a sticky subject. I know I am pro-choice and believe late term abortions should remain legal and available when necessary. At the same time, I think we all reach a point where the lines between what we're comfortable with and what we're not get a little blurry. It's impossible to define an exact month, week or day when aborting a fetus is no longer something I would endorse. Thoughts?


  1. It makes no sense because it happened in Georgia. I know, I live here, and nothing makes sense, it's like I fell down the rabbit hole into a land of right-wing make-believe. Thanks for posting this as I have only read about Doe v Bolton ONCE before as a swift aside in a book somewhere, so it was cool to see a few more details.
    I would say I pretty closely share your sentiments about late-term. Already manifest life trumps potential life, but it gets way stickier that late in the game. Still, usually abortions that occur that late really are life or death, or some kind of severe handicap- and it's been argued that it might be more morally sound NOT to bring into the world a life that stands an exceptionally high chance of being riddled with misery ("Reproducing Persons" by Laura M Purdy)- and then what if there was some sudden and horrible change in circumstances rendering you unable to care for a child you thought you could care for earlier on, or you couldn't obtain services any sooner due to some of the practical (if not legal) restrictions that exist in some places and circumstances?
    PS. I am so pleased and impressed you started this blog.

  2. "Still, usually abortions that occur that late really are life or death, or some kind of severe handicap-"

    Exactly. I'm comfortable with the existing framework. The "claim" that women can have an abortion right up to the point of delivery is so much hogwash. It is rhetoric having no basis in law or fact, and the implication that cute viable little babies are being cut up for shits and giggles is beyond reprehensible.

    Late term abortions occur because of maternal health issues or because the fetus is diagnosed with conditions "incompatible with life."

    These pregnancies are invariably chosen and wanted, and to characterize the decision to abort as a matter of maternal convenience is reprehensible.

    I urge folks here at Natalia's site to visit

    We've been fighting the good fight over there for awhile. (Best info site on the Net.)

  3. Thanks for giving the opportunity to discuss this topic on your blog. It's amazing how some people really show their discomfort for people with different ideas, politics, or beliefs as they do...

    Personally, I've always been troubled by anyone who can state that one life is more important than another.