The U.S. Supreme Court recognized a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion in a 1973 decision in the case Roe v. Wade.
How did the case arise?
A woman identified by the pseudonym Jane Roe challenged laws in the state of Texas that banned abortions except in cases where the mother’s life was at risk.
What did Roe want?
Roe challenged the Texas laws, seeking to establish that a woman has the right to terminate a pregnancy at any time, for any reason, without any limitations imposed by the state.
Did the court agree with Roe?
Not entirely. In a 7-2 decision, the court established a tiered set of freedoms and limitations regarding abortion based on the stages of the woman’s pregnancy. During the first trimester, the court said the decision to terminate the pregnancy is up to the woman and her doctor. In the second trimester, a state may impose regulations on the abortion procedure itself “in ways that are related to maternal health.” Once the pregnancy reaches the point at which the fetus is viable outside the womb, the court said the state may “regulate, and even proscribe” abortion except in cases where it is necessary “for the preservation of the life or health of the mother.”
What was the legal basis for the ruling?
The court cited a “right of privacy” found in the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, specifically a section that says no state shall “deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”
Who was Jane Roe?
Norma McCorvey was a Texas resident who became pregnant in 1969 and wanted to have an abortion. With the Texas abortion ban in place, and the length of the legal appeals process, McCorvey gave birth to her child and gave it up for adoption before the court made its 1973 ruling.