The Importance of Doe v. Bolton

January 22, 2013 marks the 40th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision. All month, we’ll be running posts examining various aspects of this landmark ruling. If you’d like to contribute, let us know! 

Roe v. Wade wasn’t the only significant abortion decision released by the Supreme Court on January 22, 1973. The Court also ruled on the constitutionality of Georgia’s abortion laws, in the equally important but lesser-known case Doe v. Bolton, which the Court first heard in 1971.

The plaintiff, identified as “Mary Doe,” was nine weeks pregnant when she sued the state’s attorney general, Arthur Bolton, for the right to an abortion. At the time, Georgia allowed for abortion for state residents in cases of rape, severe fetal deformity, or the possibility that the mother could sustain a severe or fatal injury to her health. In its ruling, the Supreme Court found that the existence of the three conditions upon which abortion was allowed violated the Fourteenth Amendment and that the residency requirement violated the Privileges and Immunities Clause.

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Anti-Choice Legislation and Georgia

House Bill 1155, an outgrowth of Georgia Right to Life’s current billboard campaign, is making its way through the Georgia General Assembly – and both local and national reproductive justice and pro-choice groups are concerned about its repercussions. Yesterday, the bill passed out of the House Judiciary Committee and moved to the House Rules Committee, which decides what bills will be debated on the House floor. State representatives expect that the bill will make it to the floor, and pass.

According to the Women’s Media Center, HB 1155, or the “Sex and Race Selection Bill,” seeks

[T]o ban the solicitation and targeting of women of color by abortion providers throughout the state. If implemented, this bill will adversely impact abortion providers by requiring them to prove that they are not targeting women of a certain race or ethnicity. … While the anti-choice HB 1155 legislation might seem at first glance to be a positive step in preventing gender and race discrimination, SisterSong and other reproductive rights organizations believe that it is important to discourage sex selection while still protecting abortion rights. Abortion bans have not stopped sex selection and they are additionally harmful to women

For more information about the bill, check out SisterSong, an Atlanta-based reproductive health collective.

Black Women Targeted by Georgia Anti-Choice Campaign

Next to the adorable face of a black child, giant bold letters proclaim, “BLACK CHILDREN ARE AN ENDANGERED SPECIES.” The ads (there are a few different ones, but they are all along the same lines) direct the viewer to visit to learn about what they see as the root of the problem–Black women in Georgia choose to abort more often that white women.

According to the site, higher abortion rates for African-American women are evidence of genocide and portend the elimination of black children (and thus the entire black community). They argue that higher abortion rates among African-American women are symptomatic of the legacy of Eugenics–the idea that certain segments of the population (typically wealthy white folks) are better parents and that the offspring of “undesireable stock” (poor, disabled, people of color) should be limited. And, to some degree, they are right.

But they (along with a number of news articles I read on the topic) are mistaken about the true root(s) of the problem.
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Colorado Abortion Opponents Will Reintroduce Fetal Personhood Bill

Abortion opponents in Colorado lost a major ballot initiative in November when the state’s voters rejected a proposed amendment to Colorado’s constitution that would have granted personhood to a fertilized embryo. Not content to rest on their laurels, abortion opponents will start collecting signatures tomorrow in order to put the same bill on the 2010 ballot.

Colorado Right to Life and Personhood USA say they will submit a new initiative Thursday to the Colorado Legislative Council in hopes of getting the measure on 2010 ballots. Last year, Colorado voted 3-to-1 against a similar measure to define fertilized human embryos as people in the state constitution. . . Abortion opponents say they think they’ll fare better next year in Colorado with better funding and a new campaign strategy. (source)

Voters in Georgia and Oregon have rejected this type of legislation, and the North Dakota legislature rejected a similar bill in February. The intent of these bills is clear – anti-choicers hope that the bills will make an end run around abortion by defining a fetus as a person and endowing the fetus with civil rights. However, Gender Equality Law explains that the effects go far beyond abortion and will have negative consequences for a broad range of reproductive health services. [Read more...]