Roe vs Wade: All you need to know about the landmark judgment

The Roe vs Wade case set a landmark judgment in place to protect a women's right to abortion. In the new controversy around abortion rights, here is a look at the case that started it all.

roe vs wade
Roe vs Wade is the benchmark lawsuit laid in the 1973 US Supreme Court decision to establish a constitutional right to abortion in the United States. The 7-2 majority opinion found that abortion was absolute during the first trimester of pregnancy.

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Roe vs Wade is a legal case through which the US Supreme Court decided to protect a woman’s right to an abortion prior to the viability of the fetus.

What is Roe vs Wade?

Roe vs Wade is the lawsuit that led the US Supreme Court to establish a constitutional right to abortion. Roe vs Wade challenged a women’s right to personal privacy with regard to pregnancy and abortion. Roe questioned the US Supreme Court saying, “Does the Constitution recognize a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy by abortion?”

With a 7-2 majority Justice Harry Blackmun found that it did indeed — with exceptions. He suggested that abortion be done with a balance between the government’s interests in protecting women’s health and “the potentiality of human life.” 

Who were Roe and Wade?

The case began in 1970 when plaintiff Jane Roe/Norma McCorvey wanted to have an absolute right to terminate pregnancy in any way and at any time. But the Supreme Court disagreed. 

Jane Roe was a pseudonym for Norma McCorvey. She was an unmarried, unemployed 22-year-old and pregnant for the third time. She sought to have an abortion in Texas, but by the time the Supreme Court ruled in her favor, she gave birth to a girl. 

Henry Wade was a local district attorney of Dallas County, Texas who was to enforce a state law to prohibit abortion. And McCorvey sued him when she sought the abortion in 1969.

What did the court decide in 1973?

In 1973 the Court tried to balance the state’s interests in the health of pregnant women and in the potential life of fetuses. They decided that in the interest of the pregnant woman’s health, they would permit abortion at the end of the first trimester of pregnancy. 

America before Roe vs Wade

At the time of Roe, abortion was legal in just 4 states and with restrictions in 16 others. But constitutional rights tend to have more power than state laws. So the court’s decision silenced the abortion bans in 30 states. But they allowed states to enforce regulations for abortion during the second trimester. All in the interest of the pregnant woman’s health of course.  

How abortion rights were altered in the US?

Justice Harry Blackmun was still on the court in 1992 when the hearing for Planned Parenthood v. Casey was going on.  This case was a challenge to Pennsylvania abortion laws that included a 24-hour waiting period. The conservative-leaning court unexpectedly upheld the right to abortion, making it easier for states to impose regulations.

Justices Sandra Day O’Connor, Anthony M Kennedy and David H Souter said in a court writing, “A woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy before viability is the central principle of Roe vs Wade. This rule of law and a component of liberty cannot be renounced.″

But since then, conservative states have been plodding abortion rights with laws, including the recent Texas law that bans abortions after six weeks.

A new case to possibly topple Roe?

The Dobbs vs Jackson Women’s Health Organization challenges Mississippi’s ban on abortion after 15 weeks. This ban undermines Roe and the states that have regulatory control over abortion at 24 weeks. The decision would affect laws in states that protect and prohibit abortions.

A draft of the Supreme Court decision was leaked that suggests that the right to abortion might be overturned. And individual states might have to regulate or even ban the procedure. Meanwhile, here are some tips for single moms out there.

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