By now, we all know about the Roe v. Wade controversy.
When it all started. On January 22, 1973, Roe v. Wade was a landmark legal decision in which the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a Texas statute banning abortion.
With that decision, the Court effectively legalized abortion procedures across the entire United States.
The court held that a woman’s right to have an abortion was implicit in the right to privacy protected by the 14th Amendment to the Constitution.
Before the Roe v. Wade ruling, abortion had been illegal throughout much of the country since the late 19th century.
What has changed. In the years since the 1973 ruling, many states have imposed strict restrictions on abortion rights.
In the article below, we will brush up on the history of abortion in the United States and the 1973 ruling.
Table Of Contents
The History Of Abortion
To talk about the history of abortion, we have to go all the way back to the earliest years of this country.
Indigenous Americans performed all types of health care procedures, including abortions.
The Pilgrims even performed abortions.
Cultural beginnings. Abortion didn’t really become a controversial issue ripe for legislative debate until around the time of the Civil War.
It was also at a time when males were getting involved in reproduction.
Before then, almost 100% of women’s reproductive health care was performed by women and midwives.
The midwives that helped deliver babies could also help women terminate their pregnancies.
If a woman needed an abortion, all she had to do was open her newspaper and look through the ads.
The ban. But between the end of the Civil War in 1910, abortion was banned in all the states.
Abortion was only legal in some states if the mother’s life or the viability of the fetus was at risk.
But that didn’t stop pregnant woman from having an abortion because abortion was still practiced in secret.
But unless you had money to leave the country or pay a doctor willing to perform the procedure for an additional fee, these abortions were much more dangerous than legal abortions.
The change. Attitudes toward abortion began to change in the 1960s, with many people believing women should have the right to choose.
In 1970, Hawaii, New York, Alaska, and Washington were the first states to legalize abortion access for women.
Enter Jane Roe
In 1969, a Texas woman in her early 20s wanted to terminate her pregnancy.
Who is Roe? Norma McCorvey grew up in difficult, impoverished circumstances.
She had previously given birth twice, giving both babies up for adoption.
Abortion was legal in Texas in 1969, but only if it was meant to save the woman’s life.
Some American women could get an abortion by traveling to other countries or paying a hefty fee to a U.S. doctor willing to perform an abortion secretly.
However, those options were out of reach to American women like McCorvey without the financial means.
So some women without the financial means for a safe abortion resorted to illegal, dangerous, “back-alley” abortions or self-induced abortions.
Many of these abortions led to maternal deaths.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, in the 1950s and 1960s, the number of illegal abortions in the United States ranged from 200,000 to 1.2 million per year.
McCorvey failed to get an illegal abortion and was referred to Texas attorneys Linda Coffee and Sarah Weddington, who wanted to challenge anti-abortion laws.
To protect her safety, her name was changed to Jane Roe in court documents.
The Supreme Court Abortion Decision
In 1970, Coffee and Weddington filed a lawsuit on behalf of McCorvey and all women “who were or might become pregnant and want to consider all options.”
They filed the suit against Henry Wade, the district attorney of Dallas County, where McCorvey resided.
In June of the same year, a Texas district court ruled that the state’s abortion ban was illegal.
Their reasoning was it violated a constitutional right to privacy.
Even still, Wade declared he’d continue to prosecute doctors who performed abortions.
To the Supreme Court. The case eventually made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
While the case was going on, McCovey gave birth to the child and put it up for adoption.
On Jan 22, 1973, in a 7-2 decision, the Supreme Court struck down the Texas law banning abortion, effectively legalizing the procedure nationwide.
Enter the 14th. The majority opinion written by Justice Harry Blackmun declared that a woman’s right to an abortion was implicit in the right to privacy protected by the 14th Amendment.
The court divided pregnancy into three trimesters.
Broken up into 3. The choice to end a pregnancy in the first trimester was solely up to the woman.
In the second trimester, the government was allowed to regulate abortion, although not ban it.
When a pregnancy reached the third trimester, the state could prohibit abortion to protect a fetus that could survive on its own outside the womb unless a woman’s health was in danger.
After the Roe v. Wade decision, politicians started to chip away at the right to abortion.
Barriers were quickly created to actually access abortion.
Enter undue burden. In a 1992 court case, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the Supreme Court reaffirmed the core holdings of Roe.
However, the court adopted a new “undue burden” standard that allowed states to impose even more restrictions.
Since 1973, states have enacted more than 1,336 abortion restrictions.
The year with the most restrictions put in place was 2021.
New Texas Law. In Texas, a new abortion law, Texas, S.B. 8, has rendered Roe nearly meaningless for most patients in that state.
Roe remains the law of the land, but S.B. 8 bans abortion after six weeks of pregnancy.
That’s before many women even realize they’re pregnant.
Laws like that make abortion access a right in name only.
So, What Happens Next?
On December 1, about 49 years after the Roe v. Wade ruling, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in a case that directly challenges the constitutional right to access abortion.
The law to be discussed is a Mississippi ban on abortion at 15 weeks of pregnancy.
Core element. Mississippi asked the Supreme Court to scrap a core holding of Roe: that a state may not ban abortion before viability.
Mississippi also wants the Supreme Court to overrule Roe and Casey entirely.
The next piece. The Supreme Court is expected to make a decision in the first half of 2022.
If Roe v. Wade is overturned, each state will have the power to decide whether to keep abortion legal or ban it outright.
This is how it was in the years before 1973.