Examples of Roe v. Wade
Where does Roe v. Wade come from?
Roe v. Wade reached the Supreme Court in 1970 after a Texas woman named Norma McCorvey, under the legal pseudonym Jane Roe, filed a lawsuit against Dallas county district attorney Henry Wade for the right to safely and legally terminate a pregnancy. At the time, abortion was prohibited or severely restricted in most states, except when the life of the mother was threatened.
McCorvey’s case was represented by University of Texas Law School graduates Linda Coffee and Sarah Weddington, who claimed that a Texas law that criminalized abortion was an unconstitutional violation of Roe’s right to privacy. They also argued that, while the McCorvey’s life was not in immediate danger, she could not afford to travel out of state to terminate her pregnancy and that she had a right to do so in a safe, professionally-supervised medical environment in Texas.
The case was argued before the Supreme Court in 1972 and reargued in 1973 after a series of retirements and on the bench. While the Court disagreed on the question of whether or not abortion is an absolute right, it did attempt to balance the potential economic, physical, and psychological distress an impregnated woman might face with the states. In a 7-2 decision written by Justice Harry Blackmun in 1973, the Court ruled that the Texas state law did, indeed, violate Roe’s right to privacy (although Roe had already given birth by the time a decision was reached) protected by the First, Fourth, Ninth, and Fourteenth Amendments, which, in Blackmun’s words, constituted “zones of privacy” that were “broad enough to encompass a woman’s decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy.”
Roe v. Wade also ruled states couldn’t regulate abortions in the first trimester, a decision overturned by the Supreme Court in 1992 in Planned Parenthood v. Casey. While upholding the privacy rulings in Roe v. Wade, Planned Parenthood v. Casey decided that states can regulate abortions at the point of the fetus’s viability, generally considered around 22–23 weeks.
The Roe v. Wade decision remains one of the most well-known and controversial Supreme Court decisions in US history for a number of reasons, with the pro-life side seeking to reverse the decision and pro-choice advocates fearing conservative court appointments will endanger it. Many groups continue to openly disagree with the court’s ruling that prenatal life is not within the definition of the “persons” protected by Constitutional rights, and believe that fetuses should be protected as vehemently as independently-living humans. McCorvey herself became the subject of controversy when, in 1998, she publicly declared her dedication to undoing Roe v. Wade and became a staunch supporter of anti-abortion policies.
In 2014, abortion rates in the US reached the lowest point since Roe v. Wade, falling to just 14.6 abortions per 1,000 women between 15-44 years of age, compared to the 1980 high of 29.3 abortions per 1,000 women.
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