Roe v Wade
In 1970, attorneys Linda Coffee and Sarah Weddington filed suit in a U.S. District Court in Texas on behalf of Norma L. McCorvey (“Jane Roe”). McCorvey claimed her pregnancy was the result of rape. The defendant in the case was Dallas County District Attorney Henry Wade, representing the State of Texas. Roe v. Wade ultimately reached the U.S. Supreme Court on appeal in 1972. In preliminary arguments, Justice Harry Blackbun noted the ambiguity in Texan abortion laws.
The Roe v. Wade decision held that a woman, with her doctor, could choose abortion in earlier months of pregnancy without restriction, and with restrictions in later months, based on the right to privacy. The court issued its decision on January 22, 1973, with a 7 to 2 majority.
The ruling established abortion as a fundamental right under the United States Constitution: specifically, after overviewing the opposition to abortion from a historical perspective, the Justices found that women had the right of privacy (enshrined in the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment) and that the Constitution did not include protection of the unborn:
“This right of privacy, whether it be founded in the Fourteenth Amendment’s concept of personal liberty and restrictions upon state action, as we feel it is, or, as the District Court determined, in the Ninth Amendment’s reservation of rights to the people, is broad enough to encompass a woman’s decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy. The detriment that the State would impose upon the pregnant woman by denying this choice altogether is apparent. Specific and direct harm medically diagnosable even in early pregnancy may be involved. Maternity, or additional offspring, may force upon the woman a distressful life and future. Psychological harm may be imminent. Mental and physical health may be taxed by child care. There is also the distress, for all concerned, associated with the unwanted child, and there is the problem of bringing a child into a family already unable, psychologically and otherwise, to care for it. In other cases, as in this one, the additional difficulties and continuing stigma of unwed motherhood may be involved. All these are factors the woman and her responsible physician necessarily will consider in consultation.”
The Court also ruled that abortion could not be committed at any point in the pregnancy: once a foetus was ‘viable’ it could no longer be aborted. The Court ruled that the state cannot restrict a woman’s right to an abortion during the first trimester, the state can regulate the abortion procedure during the second trimester and the state can choose to restrict or proscribe abortion as it sees fit during the third trimester when the fetus is viable.
According to the Roe decision, most laws against abortion in the Gender Equality in the United States of America of America violated a constitutional right to privacy under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Roe v. Wade is one of the most controversial and politically significant cases in U.S. Supreme Court history.
The Roe v Wade ruling remains controversial in contemporary US politics, resurfacing as an election issue during the 2008 Presidential election. John McCain, the Republication nominee for President, stated in 2007, that “I do not support Roe versus Wade. It should be overturned.” This represents a significant shift from his views in 1999: “I’d love to see a point where it is irrelevant, and could be repealed because abortion is no longer necessary. But certainly in the short term, or even the long term, I would not support repeal of Roe v. Wade, which would then force X number of women in America to [undergo] illegal and dangerous operations.” The Democratic nominee for President, Barack Obama, openly supported Roe v Wade: “”I think that most Americans recognize that this is a profoundly difficult issue for the women and families who make these decisions. They don’t make them casually. And I trust women to make these decisions, in conjunction with their doctors and their families and their clergy, and I think that’s where most Americans are.”