In 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court recognized a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion in Roe v. Wade. The historic decision legalized abortion across the country but divided public opinion and has been under attack ever since.
The case was brought in 1971 by Norma McCorvey, a 22-year-old girl from Texas who was unmarried and sought the termination of an unwanted pregnancy.
Due to state laws prohibiting abortion unless the mother’s life is in danger, she could not have the procedure in a safe and legal environment.
So McCorvey sued Henry Wade, Dallas County District Attorney, in 1970. The case went to the Supreme Court under Roe v. Wade to protect McCorvey’s privacy.
Supreme Court decision
The Supreme Court ruled in a landmark 7-2 ruling that a woman’s right to make her own medical decisions, including the choice to have an abortion, is protected by the 14th Amendment.
In particular, the 14th Amendment’s due process clause provides for a fundamental “right to privacy” that protects a woman’s freedom to choose whether or not to have an abortion.
… No state shall deprive anyone of life, liberty or property without due process of law.
This landmark decision led to the decriminalization of abortion in 46 states, but under certain conditions that individual states could accept. For example, states could decide whether abortions were allowed only during the first and second trimesters, but not in the third (usually after 28 weeks).
Pro-choice campaigners hailed the decision as a victory, which means fewer women will be seriously or even fatally ill as a result of abortions performed by unskilled or unlicensed medical practitioners. Moreover, freedom of choice was considered a significant step in the struggle for equal rights for women in the country. Victims of rape or incest will be able to terminate their pregnancy and not feel forced into motherhood.
However, proponents of a life sentence argued that it amounted to murder and that every life, no matter how it was intended, was priceless. While the decision was never overturned, since then anti-abortion advocates have pushed laws in hundreds of states to narrow the scope of the ordinance.
One such was the Partial Abortion Ban Act, signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2003, which banned the procedure used to perform second-trimester abortions.
McCorvey lived a quiet life until the 1980s, when she turned out to be Jane Roe.
Norma McCorvey (Jane Roe)
After the ruling, McCorvey lived a quiet life until the 1980s, when she turned out to be Jane Roe. McCorvey became a leading and outspoken supporter of abortion in American discourse, even while working at a women’s clinic where abortions were performed.
However, in 1995 she made an unexpected U-turn, becoming a born again Christian and began touring the country speaking out against the procedure.
In 2003, she filed a motion to set aside her original 1973 decision in the U.S. District Court in Dallas. The petition went through the courts until it was finally rejected by the Supreme Court in 2005.
McCorvey died at a Texas nursing home in February 2017 at the age of 69.
Several governors have signed into law a law banning abortion if a doctor can detect so-called “fetal heartbeats,” as part of a concerted effort to limit abortion rights in states across the country.
According to the ban, doctors will be held accountable for violating the rules.
Abortion rights advocates view “heartbeat bills” as virtual prohibitions because “fetal heartbeat” can be detected as early as six weeks, when women may not know they are pregnant.
Anti-abortion campaigners have stepped up their efforts since Donald Trump was elected president and appointed two conservative justices to the U.S. Supreme Court, hoping they can convince a right-wing court to reconsider Roe v. Roe. Wade.
Georgia, Ohio, Missouri, and Louisiana recently passed “heartbeat laws,” and Alabama passed an even more restrictive version in May that calls for a near-total ban on abortion from the moment of conception. Similar legislation is under consideration in other states.
Similar laws were also passed in Arkansas, Mississippi, North Dakota, Iowa, and Kentucky, although the courts blocked them from going into effect as lawsuits were filed against them.