Roe v. Wade: What is the 1973 case that enshrined abortion rights in the US

On January 22, 1973, the US Supreme Court decided the constitutional right to privacy applied to abortion; Roe was ‘Jane Roe’, a pseudonym for Norma McCorvey, a single mother pregnant for the third time, who wanted an abortion.
A crowd of people gather outside the Supreme Court, early Tuesday, in Washington.(AP)
A crowd of people gather outside the Supreme Court, early Tuesday, in Washington.(AP)
Updated on May 04, 2022 05:19 PM IST
Copy Link
AFP |

A US Supreme Court draft opinion leaked to the press on Monday suggests a majority of justices are ready to overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade, shredding nearly 50 years of constitutional protections on abortion rights.

Here is how the original 1973 court case played out.

Right to privacy

On January 22, 1973, the court decided that the constitutional right to privacy applied to abortion.

Roe was "Jane Roe," a pseudonym for Norma McCorvey, a single mother pregnant for the third time, who wanted an abortion.

She sued the Dallas attorney general, Henry Wade, over a Texas law that made it a crime to terminate a pregnancy except in cases of rape or incest, or when the mother's life was in danger.

Filing a complaint alongside her was Texas doctor James Hallford, who argued the law's medical provision was vague, and that he was unable to reliably determine which of his patients fell into the allowed category.

The "Does," another couple, childless, also filed a companion complaint, saying that medical risks made it unsafe but not life-threatening for the wife to carry a pregnancy to term, and arguing they should be able to obtain a safe, legal abortion should she become pregnant.

The trifecta of complaints -- from a woman who wanted an abortion, a doctor who wanted to perform them and a non-pregnant woman who wanted the right if the need arose -- ultimately reached the nation's top court.

The court heard arguments twice, and then waited until after Republican president Richard Nixon's re-election, in November 1972.

'Sensitive and emotional' controversy

Only the following January did it offer its historic seven-to-two decision -- overturning the Texas laws and setting a legal precedent that has had ramifications in all 50 states.

Justice Harry Blackmun, writing for the majority, said the court recognized the "sensitive and emotional nature of the abortion controversy, of the vigorous opposing views, even among physicians, and of the deep and seemingly absolute convictions that the subject inspires."

But he argued that the "right of privacy... is broad enough to encompass a woman's decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy."

"A state criminal abortion statute of the current Texas type, that excepts from criminality only a lifesaving procedure on behalf of the mother, without regard to pregnancy stage and without recognition of the other interests involved, is violative of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment," the ruling read.

But the top court agreed with lower court rulings that the right to privacy with regard to pregnancy "is not absolute, and is subject to some limitations."

"At some point, the state interests as to protection of health, medical standards and prenatal life become dominant," Blackmun wrote.

The top court thus ruled partially against the doctor and the Does, but in favor of Jane Roe, who has since become a pro-life activist.

On the same day, the justices ruled in the separate "Doe v. Bolton" case, which authorized each state to add restrictions to abortion rights for later-term pregnancies.

The constitutional right to abortion was later confirmed in a number of decisions, including "Webster v. Reproductive Health Services" in 1989, "Planned Parenthood v. Casey" in 1992 and Stenberg v. Carhart" in 2000.

SHARE THIS ARTICLE ON
Close Story
QUICKREADS

Less time to read?

Try Quickreads

  • After registering around 4,000 to 5,000 deaths per day throughout most of the winter, Europe is currently seeing around 500 deaths per day, about the same level as during the summer of 2020. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

    Europe to see 'high levels' of Covid this summer: WHO

    With the milder but more contagious Omicron subvariant BA.5 spreading across the continent, the 53 countries in the WHO European region are currently registering just under 500,000 cases daily, according to the organisation's data. That is up from around 150,000 cases daily at the end of May. Austria, Cyprus, France, Germany, Greece, Luxembourg and Portugal were the countries with the highest incidence rates, with almost all countries in the region seeing a rise in cases.

  • New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

    China says New Zealand PM's comments on assertiveness ‘wrong’

    China's embassy in New Zealand rebuked New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern for comments she made at the NATO summit about Chinese assertiveness, calling them "misguided" and "wrong". Ardern said on Wednesday in Madrid that China has "in recent times also become more assertive and more willing to challenge international rules and norms." New Zealand, which is heavily reliant on China for trade, has often shied away from direct criticism of Beijing.

  • The North has claimed the Covid wave has shown signs of subsiding, though experts suspect under-reporting in the figures released through government-controlled media.

    North Korea blames 'alien things' near border with South for Covid outbreak

    Quicked is empty for story with id 101656633439621

  • Abortion-rights activists demonstrate against the Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade on Capitol Hill in Washington.

    Florida, Kentucky judges ‘temporarily’ block states from enforcing abortion ban 

    Judges in Florida and Kentucky on Thursday moved to block those states from enforcing bans or restrictions on abortion after the U.S. Supreme Court last week overturned the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that had established a nationwide right to it. In Kentucky, Jefferson County Circuit Judge Mitch Perry issued a temporary restraining order to prevent the state from enforcing a ban passed in 2019 and triggered by the Supreme Court's decision.

  • Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson

    In Ketanji Jackson, US Supreme Court gets its 1st black woman justice

    Quicked is empty for story with id 101656607431062

SHARE
Story Saved
×
Saved Articles
Following
My Reads
Sign out
New Delhi 0C
Friday, July 01, 2022