Jane Doe entrenched in US Supreme court abortion ruling


THE suggestion in my previous column (“Rule of law and constitutional government are in peril,” Times, February 13, 2016) that “Jane Doe” should be used as a placeholder name in official records and media reports on the Grace Poe disqualification cases struck a chord with many readers. They liked the sound of “Jane Doe, a.k.a. Grace Poe.”

After undertaking some legal research, I discovered to my pleasant surprise that I have the weight of US jurisprudence in my corner. And there‘s a chance that churches could join my call for the name change.

The most famous case in US court rulings in the abortion controversy, Roe vs Wade, actually uses a placeholder name “Jane Roe” for the female litigant in the case. Jane Roe is a variant of Jane Doe in the US. Wade was a Dallas district attorney.

A landmark abortion decision
Roe vs Wade, which should be known to Filipino justices worthy of the name, is the landmark decision in 1973 by the United States Supreme Court on the issue of abortion. The Court ruled 7–2 that a right to privacy under the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment extended to a woman’s decision to have an abortion, but that this right must be balanced against the state’s two legitimate interests in regulating abortions: protecting women’s health and protecting the potentiality of human life. Arguing that these state interests became stronger over the course of a pregnancy, the Court resolved this balancing test by tying state regulation of abortion to the third trimester of pregnancy.

Later, in Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey (1992), the Court rejected Roe’s trimester framework while affirming its central holding that a woman has a right to abortion until fetal viability. The Roe decision defined “viable” as “potentially able to live outside the mother’s womb, albeit with artificial aid.” Justices in Casey acknowledged that viability may occur at 23 or 24 weeks, or sometimes even earlier, in light of medical advances.

In disallowing many state and federal restrictions on abortion in the United States, Roe v. Wade prompted a national debate that continues to this day about issues including whether, and to what extent, abortion should be legal, who should decide the legality of abortion, what methods the Supreme Court should use in constitutional adjudication, and what the role should be of religious and moral views in the political sphere.

Roe vs Wade reshaped US national politics, dividing much of the US into pro-choice and pro-life camps, and activating grassroots movements on both sides.

The Jane Roe in this case was actually Norma Leah McCorvey, who revealed herself soon after the Supreme Court decision. But the name Roe vs Wade has stuck to the court case and decision. And so it will remain.

From the courts to the morgue
The tradition of using John or Jane Doe dates back centuries in England, America and other English- speaking countries.

From the courts to the morgue, if the government doesn’t know someone’s name or wants to withhold it, they give them one of these as a placeholder. Why?

The John and Jane Doe custom was born out of a strange and long-since vanished British legal process called an action of ejectment. Under old English common law, the actions landowners could take against squatters or defaulting tenants frequently resorted to giving fictitious names to the parties in their legal actions.

Whatever their ultimate origin, the names John and Jane Doe became standard placeholders for unidentified, anonymous or hypothetical parties to a court case. Most US jurisdictions continue to use John Doe and his female counterpart, Jane, as placeholder names, and will bring in Roe if two anonymous or unknown parties are involved in the same case. Sometimes, the federal courts skip Doe and go right to Roe for anonymous plaintiffs. The US federal courts adopted the practice, and used it most famously in Roe vs Wade.

A shameful footnote in history        
It is not lost on me that all this disquisition on the Poe disqualification cases, only serve to expand the legend and appeal of Ms Poe to the masses, raising her to the status of his adoptive father, Fernando Poe, Jr.

Some say that the more we remove the fig leaf from her con game, the more she will haunt our politics.

I do not buy this superstition. I believe the researchers and scholars at the Ateneo Institute of Philippine Culture, who have discovered through their research that the poor vote in this country is, contrary to popular belief, “a thinking vote.” They are not that easily swayed or manipulated by lies. They do not like being taken for fools.

I am hunting for a copy of this research study. When I get my copy and have reviewed it, I will write a full report.

I believe “Grace Poe” will eventually become just like a screen name or nom de guerre.

It will fade into the dustbin of history and recesses of memory, unless Ms. Poe does something extraordinary like Voltaire, Mark Twain. and Marilyn Monroe—all of which are assumed names.

But perhaps the horrible torture she has put us through in this election cycle is already enough to earn her a shameful footnote in our history.



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  1. It is the fault of you people (press) for using always Poe and not Llamansares which is more Legal than foundling Poe.

  2. Mariano Patalinjug on

    Yonkers, New York
    16 Feb. 2016

    There is a very good chance that this Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, has no problem “legislating from the bench” or “committing an act of grave abuse of discretion” to favor presidential candidate GRACE POE LLAMANZARES.

    It may do that completely ignoring the FACT that, exercising its constitutional responsibility to vet all presidential and vice-presidential candidates, the COMELEC disqualified Grace Poe Llamanzares THREE TIMES on two constitutional grounds: 1] she is not a natural-born Filipino citizen, and 2] she is not in compliance with the 10-year residency requirement.

    Many close observers must be astounded that in the ongoing “oral arguments” on GPL’s appeal before the Supreme Court, Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno has acted more as GPL’s legal counsel, than as the Chief Justice of the Court.

    By so doing she runs the risk of being IMPEACHED for conduct that is totally repugnant to the role of a Justice, let alone the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.


  3. Re: Roe vs. Wade

    If I recall correctly, I read that many years afterwards Jane Doe apparently regretted her decision to abort, and went around the country campaigning with pro-life candidates. Talk about irony!

  4. legal sharing:
    “When the judiciary mediates to allocate constitutional boundaries, it does not assert any superiority over the other departments; it does not in reality nullify or invalidate an act of the legislature, but only asserts the solemn and sacred obligation assigned to it by the Constitution to determine conflicting claims of authority under the Constitution and to establish for the parties in an actual controversy the rights which that instrument secures and guarantees to them.
    — Justice Jose P. Laurel[1]

    The role of the Constitution cannot be overlooked. It is through the Constitution that the fundamental powers of government are established, limited and defined, and by which these powers are distributed among the several departments.[2] The Constitution is the basic and paramount law to which all other laws must conform and to which all persons, including the highest officials of the land, must defer.[3] Constitutional doctrines must remain steadfast no matter what may be the tides of time. It cannot be simply made to sway and accommodate the call of situations and much more tailor itself to the whims and caprices of government and the people who run it.[4]…”

    • The Commission exercises not only administrative and quasi-judicial powers, but judicial power as well.

      “…By grave abuse of discretion is meant such capricious and whimsical exercise of judgment that is equivalent to lack of jurisdiction.18 The abuse of discretion must be grave as where the power is exercised in an arbitrary or despotic manner by reason of passion or personal hostility, and must be so patent and gross as to amount to an evasion of positive duty or to a virtual refusal to perform the duty enjoined by or to act at all in contemplation of law.19

      Grave abuse of discretion is defined as capricious or whimsical exercise of judgment as is equivalent to lack of jurisdiction. The abuse of discretion must be patent and gross as to amount to an evasion of a positive duty or a virtual refusal to perform a duty enjoined by law, or to act at all in contemplation of law, as where the power is exercised in an arbitrary and despotic manner by reason of passion and hostility. Under this definition, the People bears the burden of convincingly demonstrating that the Sandiganbayan gravely abused its discretion in the appreciation of the evidence. We find that the People failed in this regard. As a rule, misapplication of facts and evidence, and erroneous conclusions based on evidence do not, by the mere fact that errors were committed, rise to the level of grave abuse of discretion. That an abuse itself must be “grave” must be amply demonstrated since the jurisdiction of the court, no less, will be affected. We have previously held that the mere fact, too, that a court erroneously decides a case does not necessarily deprive it of jurisdiction (People v. Sandiganbayan et al., G.R. No. 190963, February 6, 2012). Mere abuse of discretion is not enough. It must be grave abuse of discretion as when the power is exercised in an arbitrary or despotic manner by reason of passion or personal hostility, and must be so patent and so gross as to amount to an evasion of a positive duty or to a virtual refusal to perform the duty enjoined or to act at all in contemplation of law (Solvic Industrial Corp. vs. NLRC, 296 SCRA 432, 441 [1998]; Tomas Claudio Memorial College, Inc. vs. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 124262, October 12, 1999).

  5. Leodegardo Pruna on

    Disgraced GRACE, that is what she is and that will forever hound her throughout her physical life. What a way to live, fooling and lying , for an ambition which she herself know she is off tangent and ill prepared. In all probability, she has a reason and that is because her predecessor is much less competent and imbalance. God save the Philippines. God bless the Philippines.