Roe v. Wade: U.S. Supreme Court Decision on Abortion
Roe v. Wade was a landmark 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that established a woman’s legal right to have an abortion, striking down many state restrictions and significantly changing the legal landscape surrounding reproductive rights in the United States.
The case decided on January 22, 1973, centered on a Texas woman named Norma McCorvey, who used the pseudonym “Jane Roe” to protect her privacy. McCorvey sought to terminate her pregnancy but could not do so because Texas law only allowed abortion in cases where the mother’s life was in danger. She filed a lawsuit against Henry Wade, the district attorney of Dallas County, Texas, arguing that the state’s restrictive abortion laws violated her constitutional rights.
The Supreme Court, in a 7-2 decision, ruled in favor of Roe. The majority opinion, written by Justice Harry Blackmun, held that the constitutional right to privacy, which was found to be “broad enough to encompass a woman’s decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy,” was protected under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Court established a trimester framework, which granted women the right to have an abortion during the first trimester of pregnancy without government interference while allowing states to regulate or restrict abortions in the later stages of pregnancy, with the state’s interest in protecting the health of the mother and the potential life of the fetus increasing as the pregnancy progressed.
The Roe v. Wade decision profoundly impacted the debate surrounding abortion rights in the United States. It galvanized both pro-choice and pro-life activists, forming organizations like the National Abortion Rights Action League (now NARAL Pro-Choice America) and the National Right to Life Committee. The decision remains one of the most contentious and politically divisive issues in American politics, with ongoing debates over the extent of the right to abortion and the role of the government in regulating reproductive rights.