1971 April 21

Vuitch: Supreme Court Rules in First-Ever Abortion Case


United States v. Vuitch, decided on this day, was the first abortion case heard by the Supreme Court. Dr. Milan Vuitch was prosecuted in the District of Columbia for performing abortions. Vuitch argued that the law permitting abortion when it was necessary for the life or health of the woman was unconstitutionally vague. The District Court agreed and dismissed the indictment. In Vuitch, however, the Supreme Court held that the law was not unconstitutionally vague. Justice Hugo Black’s majority opinion, however, interpreted the law in such way as to make criminal prosecutions extremely difficult. Although technically losing in Supreme Court, Dr. Vuitch said he was pleased with the decision.

Dr. Vuitch claimed that he performed 1,000 illegal abortions a year in his office that was three blocks from the White House. In later years, after Roe v. Wade (January 22, 1973), Vuitch was subjected to a number of complaints and malpractice suits regarding his medical practice.

Justice Black: “The word ‘health’ in the statute, in accord with general usage and modern understanding, and a recent interpretation of § 22-201 by the federal courts, includes psychological as well as physical wellbeing, and as thus construed is not overly vague.”

Listen to the oral argument in Vuitchhttp://www.oyez.org/cases/1970-1979/1970/1970_84

Learn more about the case: http://protectchoice.org/article.php?id=95

See a photo of Dr. Vuitch in his office: http://www.gettyimages.com/detail/news-photo/abortion-doctor-dr-milan-vuitch-in-his-office-news-photo/50655417

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