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More than 55 million unborn children have been aborted since the United States Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade (1973) and Doe v. Bolton (1973) decisions legalized abortion at any time during pregnancy and for any reason (such as age, fear of pain, or family size). While Roe is far more familiar to people, it is Doe v. Bolton that allows abortion for any reason.
The meaning of 'health'
Doe is significant primarily because it describes the extent of the post-viability health exception that is also used in Roe. In Doe, the Court defined "health" to include not just physical health, but also psychological, mental and emotional health. The Court cited age, familial circumstances and anything relevant to the woman’s general feeling of well being as reasons that would justify a late-term abortion—and thus override what Roe decided was a legitimate state interest in protecting the unborn after viability. The Court explained:
The medical judgment [for a late-term abortion] may be exercised in the light of all factors—physical, emotional, psychological, familial, and the woman's age—relevant to the well-being of the patient. All these factors may relate to health. This allows the attending physician the room he needs to make his best medical judgment. And it is room that operates for the benefit, not the disadvantage, of the pregnant woman.
On this criteria, virtually any reason a woman gives to have a third-trimester abortion is sufficient. "After viability, the state may 'proscribe' abortion only when the woman considering abortion can find no physician willing to say that her mental health would, for example, be 'taxed by child care' or suffer 'distress ... associated with the unwanted child,'" write Dennis J. Horan and Thomas J. Balch. In effect, if a woman could find an abortionist willing to perform a third-trimester abortion, she could have one.
In a Los Angeles Times analysis, David Savage explained: "[Supreme Court Justice Harry] Blackmun had said that abortion 'must be left to the medical judgment of the pregnant woman's attending physician.' So long as doctors were willing to perform abortions—and clinics soon opened to do so—the court’s ruling said they could not be restricted from doing so, at least through the first six months of pregnancy." During the final trimester, "It soon became clear that if a patient's 'emotional well-being' was reason enough to justify an abortion, then any abortion could be justified."
Marvin Olasky, author of Abortion Rites: A Social History of Abortion in America, puts it this way: "[The] Court ... mandated abortion anywhere without restriction during the first three months of pregnancy, abortion in hospitals without restriction during the next three months, and abortion in hospitals following paperwork during the final three months."
In striking down the Georgia law which was the basis for the original Doe lawsuit, the Court also invalidated a requirement that abortions only be performed in hospitals. As a result, many medical facilities devoted specifically to abortion, usually called abortion clinics, quickly came into existence.
Roe v. Wade, together with Doe v. Bolton, had the effect of mandating legalized abortion on demand up until the moment of birth in all 50 states. All state laws against abortion were invalidated. Indeed, in 1983 the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee concluded that “no significant legal barriers of any kind whatsoever exist today in the United States for a woman to obtain an abortion for any reason during any stage of her pregnancy.”
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