A Medical Supersession: A Focused Addendum to Doe v. Bolton


Women’s access to abortion has improved since the early 2000s due to pro-abortion efforts. These efforts included active campaigns, debates, rallies, and other methods to spread pro-abortion messages. While these methods successfully increased public awareness, the  abortion debate remained a legal issue. State laws limited abortion access and women could only undergo the process in specific places. It was only because of legal cases, such as Doe v. Bolton, that allowed for the modification of abortion laws and gave more rights to women. The Doe v. Bolton case presented the problems with the Georgia abortion laws and aided in the amendment of the abortion laws in the United States.

Doe v. Bolton Case Background

The Doe v. Bolton case is between Sandra Bensing and the Georgia State. Bensing utilized the pseudonym Mary Doe for anonymity and filed a case against Arthur Bolton, Lewis Slaton, and Herbert Jenkins (Abboud, 2017). Bolton and the other two state officials represented Georgia, thus leading to the case name “Doe v. Bolton.” However, Bensing’s arguments are about Georgia abortion laws and are not directed at the actions of the respondents. This is important to note since the respondents did not cause direct harm to the appellant and are simply representing the state.

Doe v. Bolton is about Bensing’s experience under the Georgia abortion laws. Bensing was separated from her husband, a mother of four children; all of which are not in her care, and an ex-patient from a state psychiatric hospital (Abboud, 2017). Bensing became pregnant in April 1970, but she assessed that her condition may prevent her from providing the necessary care and a good life to the child. She decided to get an abortion from a Georgia public hospital, however, the facility rejected her request since she did not meet the requirements of the state abortion law. Instead, Bensing went to a private hospital to get an abortion since these facilities have their own regulations outside of certain state laws. Later after the abortion, Bensing decided to file the case against Georgia state.

The Georgia Abortion Laws

The Doe v. Bolton case started because of the limitations that the Georgia abortion laws put on women’s rights. The Criminal Code of Georgia established three requirements for abortion access; the patient must have a licensed Georgia physician assess if the pregnancy is a health risk to the mother; if the pregnancy was due to rape; or if the fetus has a serious birth defect. An abortion patient must possess at least one of these requirements to get access to abortion. The Georgia public hospital rejected Bensing’s abortion request since she did not meet any of the requirements. The public hospital, being a property of the state, had to reject the abortion request since its operations comply with every state medical law.

Aside from the three requirements, the Criminal Code of Georgia also added more conditions in giving abortion access. The law required the patient to be a Georgia resident, the medical practitioners to conduct the abortion in a Joint Commission on Accreditation of Hospital-accredited facility, to get the approval of the hospital staff abortion committee, and that two other licensed physicians confirm the medical decision of the performing doctor. Furthermore, Georgia's abortion law included provisions that could limit a patient’s access to abortion despite possessing the other requirements. The provisions included the submission of documentation as proof of rape; the power of court attorneys and relatives to evaluate abortion applications; and the approval of a judge before receiving an abortion. These additional requirements and provisions made abortion difficult for women even when they meet one of the three initial requirements for the procedure.

Decisions of the Court

Bensing had seven arguments that addressed women’s rights to abortion and the Georgia abortion law. This resulted in seven decisions from the court regarding Doe v. Bolton. The first argument refers to the justification of the case. Bensing’s side argued that she had the right to sue the Georgia state despite the rejection coming from a public hospital. The court explained that the state and its laws gave the hospital its power and limitations regarding abortion (Abboud, 2017). The state is liable since the hospital simply followed the state laws. This decision made Georgia state liable and allowed the case to proceed with the other arguments.

The second argument referred to women’s control over the decision of abortion. The court held that a woman’s right to abortion cannot be absolute and the state must set limitations (Doe et al. v. Bolton et al., 1973). The judges argued that the state has an interest in protecting the life of a fetus and so there must be limitations and regulations on abortion access (Abboud, 2017). This decision is necessary to prevent high rates of abortion as well as secure the health of women. If women had the absolute right to get an abortion, irresponsible individuals may abuse the process and cause harm to themselves. State regulations can mitigate this potential problem while still making abortion accessible.

The third argument addressed the appellant’s claim of the vagueness of the Georgia abortion law. Bensing’s side argued that the term “best clinical judgment” is a vague statement that can endanger a physician’s career because of a wrong judgment. However, the court argued that the statement was not vague since the Georgia abortion law stated the requirements for abortion access and physicians could simply follow the law to secure the legality of their decision (Abboud, 2017). This argument was the appellant’s attempt to discredit the Georgia abortion law, in hopes of overturning it. Unfortunately, the court found the argument invalid.

The fourth argument is about the Georgia state law’s violation of the fourteenth amendment. According to Doe et al. v. Bolton et al. (1973), the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Hospital accreditation was unnecessary because all hospitals have an interest in protecting their patients; the requirement to get the approval of a hospital staff abortion committee is restrictive to a patient’s rights; and the requirement to get the confirmations of two physicians is an infringement on the attending physician’s decisions and practice. These requirements limited the freedom of patients and physicians, violating the fourteenth amendment. The decision that these requirements are unconstitutional led to changes in the law.

The fifth argument referred to Georgia state law’s violation of the Privileges and Immunities Clause of the Constitution. According to the Privileges and Immunities Clause, all U.S. citizens are entitled to all the privileges and immunities that a state grants to its citizens. Since the Georgia abortion law requires a patient to be a Georgia resident to access abortion in the state, the law then violates this specific clause. To address this, the Georgia abortion law had to give access to abortion despite the place of residency of a patient. This allowed any citizen to access abortion in Georgia, improving the access to the procedure at a national level.

The sixth argument addressed another potential violation of the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause. The appellant’s side argued that the Georgia abortion law provisions discriminated against certain subpopulations since the poor and non-white women needed to go to hospitals with specific accreditations (Abboud, 2017). However, the court held this argument to be invalid since the abortion process does not discriminate. This appellant’s argument focused on the situation where the wealthy can afford to go to accredited facilities while the poor may be subject to limitations. This was not a violation of the Equal Protection Clause since the facilities will provide the same service to any patient, provided that they pay for the procedure. While one can argue that the state can make abortion free, this can lead individuals to opt for an abortion every time they get pregnant, increasing the abortion rate and risking the health of women.

The last argument referred to Bensing’s demand for injunctive relief. According to Cornell Law School (n.d.), injunctive relief is a remedy that may require or prevent action from a party. The purpose of this concept is to prevent the same issue from arising in the future. Bensing demanded injunctive relief as a way for the state of Georgia to change its abortion laws. However, the court did not provide any ruling in this particular argument as they assume that Georgia authorities will recognize the decisions of the court in Doe v. Bolton. Injunctive relief would only be applicable if the state rejected the decisions and did not change any of their provisions.


The Doe v. Bolton case revealed the inconsistencies and issues with the Georgia abortion law. Bensing’s arguments found merit in the redundancies and restrictiveness that made the abortion law unconstitutional. These merits led to significant changes in abortion laws which helped future cases and gave women their rights to an abortion. Doe v. Bolton showcased how one situation can make a difference and how state laws can often restrict the freedom that they aim to grant citizens.

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Reference List

Abboud, C. (2017). Doe v. Bolton (1973). The Embryo Project Encyclopedia. Available at https://embryo.asu.edu/pages/doe-v-bolton-1973. Accessed June 8, 2022.

Law.cornell.edu. (n.d.). Equal Protection. Cornell Law School. Available at https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/equal_protection#:~:text=The%20Fourteenth%20Amendment%27s%20Equal%20Protection,to%20a%20legitimate%20governmental%20objective. Accessed June 8, 2022

Law.cornell.edu. (n.d.). Injunctive Relief. Cornell Law School. Available at https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/injunctive_relief. Accessed June 10, 2022.

Law.cornell.edu. (n.d.). Mary DOE et al., Appellants, v. Arthur K. BOLTON, as Attorney General of the State of Georgia, et al. Cornell Law School. Available at https://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt/text/410/179. Accessed June 10, 2022.

Law.cornell.edu. (n.d.). Privileges and Immunities Clause. Available at https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/privileges_and_immunities_clause#:~:text=The%20Privileges%20and%20Immunities%20Clause,restrains%20state%20efforts%20to%20discriminate. Accessed June 8, 2022.

Usccb.org. (n.d.). Summary of Roe v. Wade and Other Key Abortion Cases. United States Conference of Catholic Bishop. Available at https://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/abortion/upload/Summary-of-Roe-v-Wade-and-Other-Key-Abortion-Cases.pdf. Accessed June 8, 2022.

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