Poe v. Ullman

LOCATION: Grace-New Haven Community Hospital

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1958-1962)

CITATION: 367 US 497 (1961)
ARGUED: Mar 01, 1961 / Mar 02, 1961
DECIDED: Jun 19, 1961

Facts of the case

An old Connecticut law prohibited the use of contraceptive devices and the giving of medical advice in the use of those devices. The law also applied to married couples. The Connecticut Attorney General threatened to enforce the law against three individuals in this case including Jane Doe (Doe v. Pullman). Mrs. Doe, having recovered from a tough pregnancy which threatened her life and left her with several emotional and physical disabilities, was informed by her physician that any additional pregnancies could be fatal. She challenged the Connecticut law since it criminalized her use of contraceptives.


Did the Connecticut law violate liberty protected by due process of the Fourteenth Amendment?

Media for Poe v. Ullman

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 02, 1961 in Poe v. Ullman

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 01, 1961 in Poe v. Ullman

Earl Warren:

Number 60, Paul Poe, et al., Appellants, versus Abraham S. Ullman, and Number 61, C. Lee Buxton, Appellant, versus Abraham S. Ullman.

Mr. Harper.

Fowler V. Harper:

Your Honor, may it please the Court.

These three appeals derived from three cases, initiated simultaneously in the lower courts of the State of Connecticut, went to the Supreme Court of Errors and are here now on appeal under U.S.C. 1257.

As a matter of fact, they were consolidated here for oral argument because they raised the same federal question, although the three cases raised them -- raised it in somewhat slightly different factual contents.

Now, these are the cases, three cases, Your Honor, Doe versus Ullmant -- Ullman, Poe versus Ullman and Buxton versus Ullman.

Now, these are the cases.

Appellant Doe is a woman now 27 years of age, who lives in New Haven with her husband, 28.

They have no living children.

Four years ago, Mrs. Poe became ill with a cardiovascular ailment.

She also became pregnant and developed toxemia pregnancy.

In these circumstances, her physician, who was appellant Buxton, decided that the best way to save her life was to terminate the pregnancy.

I might add that under law of Connecticut, it is lawful to terminate the pregnancy of a woman in order to save her life, although it is not lawful to advice and have her use a contraceptive to prevent her becoming pregnant.

She was admitted to the Greystone Haven Hospital in this condition.

Before they could carry out this procedure, however, appellant Doe suffered a severe cerebral hemorrhage.

She was unconscious for two weeks in a critical condition for nine weeks, during which time it was necessary to carry out several lifesaving procedures.

Now, in these circumstances, her physician came to the conclusion that the lesser risk for her life would be to let the pregnancy go full term rather than subject her to the operation to terminate her pregnancy.

It did go full term.

She delivered a stillborn fetus.

She was subsequently discharged from the hospital, the same heart ailment, paralyzed partially, she has no use of her left arm, she wears a sling, she wears her left leg in a pulley clamp, she had to learn to talk all over because of paralysis of her face.

Her physician has told her that another pregnancy will probably result in her death.

She then asked Dr. Buxton to prescribe for her the best treatment for her -- a woman in her condition.

Dr. Buxton said, "Yes, I have knowledge of the best medical treatment.

It will be to prescribe for you and for -- to you to use certain drugs, medicinal articles and devices to prevent another pregnancy.

"However, he said, "I cannot prescribe them because the appellee," State's Attorney here, "claims that this would be a violation of a Connecticut statute."

That statute provides that this is a criminal offense for any person to use an article, drug or device to prevent conception.

The appellee further claims, appellee Ullman, that he will prosecute any violation of this law, as indeed he has.

In State versus Nelson, when he procured a conviction of a physician and two nurses, his assistants, for violating the accessory law, which makes a person a criminal in the same degree for aiding and abetting another person committing a crime.

John M. Harlan II:


Fowler V. Harper:

That's the basis.