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

Oct 12, 2007

While Doe v. Bolton differs from Roe v. Wade in terms of breadth, it still holds a place as a landmark case in the subject of abortion. As of late, the primary points of contention over abortion are philosophical in essence, attempting to define the starting point from which life springs and claiming equivocating abortion to murder in light of such argumentation. The central dispute in Doe v. Bolton is of practical concern: particularly, abortion as a medical procedure. In the state of Georgia, special laws were put into place in order to regulate abortion. Following the case, these regulations were deemed unconstitutional, as no other medical procedure has such as strict set of measures. Mothers seeking abortions, therefore, are discriminated, their Fourteenth Amendment right violated as they were not granted an ëqual protection of the law.” Such a ruling was definitive; however, it is necessary to elucidate the principles under which this ruling was made based on the dynamic between an ever-changing sociocultural context and a legislation that constantly adapts in response.

The plaintiff, Mary Doe, contended that the currently existing abortion laws in Georgia violated her rights to abortion, and were thus unconstitutional. Critical to her argumentation is the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution, the first section of which speaks of the “equal protection of laws” granted to all citizens of the United States. She presented five points of contention with the existing regulations on abortion as a medical procedure. In sum, they forwarded that the current laws on abortion presented an extreme prejudice and particularization of abortion as a medical procedure. Stipulated to abortion was a highly stringent process not found anywhere else. Effectively, they lengthened and complicated the preliminary process of acquiring abortion, and by doing so had deprived mothers who wished to seek abortion from an equal protection of laws.

Ideally, laws are enacted in accordance with public interest. Without assessing the sociocultural context in the state of Georgia at the time, one may assume that the particularizing procedure implemented upon abortion was stipulated out of an attempt to pursue the interest of protecting the welfare of mothers. For error to befall in such regard may be expected. The progression of the technology and understanding behind reproduction had been coursing throughout the history of society. Regulations stipulated were so because of their congeniality at the time in lieu of the given context. Consequently, regulations become outdated, and a new set of amendments have to be set in place in order to keep with the times. Doe v. Bolton is one of the prime examples of this dynamic between sociocultural context and constitutionality.

The last point of contention that Doe raised was completely valid. To reserve medical abortions in the state of Georgia to only residents of Georgia is an infringement of the equal protection of laws. On the other hand, the first four points, prior to the case, were valid in the sense that they were aligned with the sociocultural context in which they were effected. The surrounding technology and understanding of medical abortion were most likely limited by their conception. What was feared the most was that lines never yet known were crossed, resulting in harm or death of the mother. As a precaution, abortions were allowed only in hospitals where facilities were up-to-date and readily available in the event of a complication. There was also a special accreditation that was required for an abortion procedure to proceed, along with the approval of a special medical committee and that of two other doctors outside of the mother’s own physician being deemed necessary. Mary Doe’s argument that such requirements were exclusive only to abortion alone was correct in every way, but only because they were implemented in place due to the aforementioned limitations.

But is abortion itself essentially a special medical procedure? This question seems to be one that has not been touched. Not counting sociocultural context, there is some strength in the case for it. Other surgeries such as an incision of a malignant tumor or a cosmetic surgery involves a meticulous medical alteration of a part of the patient’s body. In the long run, this ideally comes at a gain for the patient against any harm or detriment that is befalling her at the time. The removal of a benign cyst may relieve her of the inconvenience of chronic pain, for instance. The question remains whether this is the case with abortion. Some argue that it is: the mother will be met at a great disadvantage should she choose to continue to bear the child, either because it serves to the detriment to her physical health or to her current lifestyle that is not sufficient to sustain both her and the child. Running deeper than this, however, is whether the child should be equated to a cyst or a tumor. This causes the issue to be complex; cysts and tumors are unnatural to the human body, while a growing child inside the womb is a natural function. 

This was a question, again, not raised during Doe v. Bolton. What that affirms is the state’s interest in upholding the welfare of mothers and, in doing so, disregarding the growing embryo. It must be clarified that the preceding discussion is no attempt to support any of the two sides on the on-going abortion debate. Rather, it attempts to give light to a particular aspect of the Doe v. Bolton ruling: its focus on abortion as a medical procedure had resulted in a, albeit unknowing, disregard of any other aspect of abortion. Granted, abortion is a medical concern, but it is also a societal, cultural, and philosophical issue. This does not take away the significance of the ruling itself. The ruling is, indeed, a breakthrough as far as constitutionality and medical progression are concerned. However, it only touched upon a small part of an enormous matter. One thing is made clear, at least: the state pursues the interests of the mother’s welfare. Constitutionality, however, is only part of the story.

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