Roe v. Wade

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Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973), was a landmark decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in which the Court ruled that the Constitution of the United States protects a pregnant woman's liberty to choose to have an abortion without excessive government restriction.


  • This Texas federal appeal and its Georgia companion, Doe v. Bolton, post, p. 179, present constitutional challenges to state criminal abortion legislation. The Texas statutes under attack here are typical of those that have been in effect in many States for approximately a century. The Georgia statutes, in contrast, have a modern cast, and are a legislative product that, to an extent at least, obviously reflects the influences of recent attitudinal change, of advancing medical knowledge and techniques, and of new thinking about an old issue.
    We forthwith acknowledge our awareness of 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. One's philosophy, one's experiences, one's exposure to the raw edges of human existence, one's religious training, one's attitudes toward life and family and their values, and the moral standards one establishes and seeks to observe, are all likely to influence and to color one's thinking and conclusions about abortion.
    In addition, population growth, pollution, poverty, and racial overtones tend to complicate and not to simplify the problem.
    Our task, of course, is to resolve the issue by constitutional measurement, free of emotion and of predilection.
    • Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973).
  • This right of privacy... is broad enough to encompass a woman's decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy....[T]he word 'person', as used in the 14th Amendment, does not include the unborn.
    • Harry Blackmun, U.S. Supreme Court, author of majority opinion in (1973).
  • The fact that a majority of the States reflecting, after all, the majority sentiment in those States, have had restrictions on abortions for at least a century is a strong indication, it seems to me, that the asserted right to an abortion is not ‘so rooted in the traditions and conscience of our people as to be ranked as fundamental...’
    • William H. Rehnquist, U.S. Supreme Court, one of two dissenters against the majority opinion in the landmark abortion case, Roe v. Wade (January 22, 1973).
  • Several decisions of this Court make clear that freedom of personal choice in matters of marriage and family life is one of the liberties protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. . . . That right necessarily includes the right of a woman to decide whether or not to terminate her pregnancy.
  • At the heart of the controversy in these cases are those recurring pregnancies that pose no danger whatsoever to the life or health of the mother but are, nevertheless, unwanted for any one or more of a variety of reasons -- convenience, family planning, economics, dislike of children, the embarrassment of illegitimacy, etc.
    • Byron White, U.S. Supreme Court, one of two dissenters in Roe v. Wade, (January 22, 1973).
  • I find nothing in the language or history of the Constitution to support the court's judgment. The court simply fashions and announces a new constitutional right for pregnant mothers and, with scarcely any reason or authority for its action, invests that right with sufficient substance to override most existing state abortion statutes.
    • Byron White, U.S. Supreme Court, one of two dissenters in Roe v. Wade, (January 22, 1973).

About Roe v. Wade[edit]

  • If the right to choose is to survive and flourish on its 50th anniversary, those who came of age after Roe must rise to its defense. Current public opinion research indicates that the generations born in the 1960s and afterward take the right for granted. To the extent possible, we must use the 25th anniversary as an opportunity to teach our daughters and sons the history of the struggle for abortion rights and to enlist them in the movement for reproductive freedom.
  • The court’s seven-to-two decision, which basically made abortion legal in the first trimester and subject to state regulation thereafter, was based on the constitutional right of privacy, which the justices ruled “broad enough to encompass a woman’s decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy.”
    The Supreme Court knew it was entering difficult and uncharted territory: “We forthwith acknowledge our awareness of 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.” In hindsight, the decision held multiple clues about the future of the abortion battle — and by extension, the fortunes of feminism. It affirmed a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion but mandated that the circumstances under which those abortions could take place would remain firmly in the hands of doctors in medical settings. Furthermore, the distinction between first-trimester and late-term abortions opened the door for states to impose other restrictions on the access and timing of abortion provision.
  • "Prior to Roe," says Garrow, "whether one could obtain a legal abortion in the face of an unwanted pregnancy was a crap shoot. For 30 years now, it's been a constitutionally guaranteed right."
  • By making abortion legal nationwide, Roe v. Wade has had a dramatic impact on the health and well-being of American women. Deaths from abortion have plummeted, and are now a rarity. In addition, women have been able to have abortions earlier in pregnancy when the procedure is safest: The proportion of abortions obtained early in the first trimester has risen from 20% in 1970 to 56% in 1998. These public health accomplishments may now be seriously threatened.
    Supporters of legal abortion face the bleakest political landscape in recent history. Congress is poised to pass legislation criminalizing some abortion procedures (termed "partial-birth" abortion) even when they are performed prior to fetal viability and when they are deemed by the physician to be in the best interest of the woman's health; by doing so, the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act takes direct aim at the basic principles underlying Roe.
  • In 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court first held that a right to have an abortion was protected by the U.S. Constitution, in Roe v. Wade. While the legal test articulated in Roe has since been jettisoned by the Court, its “essential holding” has been reaffirmed. That holding has been summarized as having three parts:
    First is a recognition of the right of the woman to choose to have an abortion before viability and to obtain it without undue interference from the State. Before viability, the State’s interests are not strong enough to support a prohibition of abortion or the imposition of a substantial obstacle to the woman’s effective right to elect the procedure. Second is a confirmation of the State’s power to restrict abortions after fetal viability, if the law contains exceptions for pregnancies which endanger the woman’s life or health. And third is the principle that the State has legitimate interests from the outset of the pregnancy in protecting the health of the woman and the life of the fetus that may become a child. These principles do not contradict one another; and we adhere to each.
  • If Roe were reversed and all high-risk states banned abortion, 39% of the national population of women aged 15–44 would experience increases in travel distances ranging from less than 1 mile to 791 miles. If these women respond similarly to travel distances as Texas women, county-level abortion rates would fall by amounts ranging from less than 1% to more than 40%. Aggregating across all affected regions, the average resident is expected to experience a 249 mile increase in travel distance, and the abortion rate is predicted to fall by 32.8% (95% confidence interval 25.9–39.6%) in the year following a Roe reversal.
  • Importantly, public opinion also mirrors the conceptual framework used in the 1973 landmark Roe v. Wade abortion decision. Under that historic ruling, the interests of the mother are paramount in the first trimester, but the state has an interest in protecting the fetus after viability. In the words of the decision: "For the stage subsequent to viability the State, in promoting its interest in the potentiality of human life, may, if it chooses, regulate, and even proscribe, abortion except where necessary, in appropriate medical judgment, for the preservation of the life or health of the mother."
    The wording of Roe v. Wade aligns almost perfectly with where Americans stand on late-term abortions -- keep them legal to save the life of the mother and in cases of rape and incest, but not for other reasons. Where Americans seem to depart from the decision is in supporting certain restrictions on first-term abortions, particularly those performed because of Down syndrome or solely at the woman's discretion.
    Roe v. Wade took the power of outlawing abortion out of states' hands, making it legal throughout the country. But its invitation to regulate abortion in ways focused on the health of the mother, as well as to protect the "potentiality of human life" after viability, has enabled states to pass numerous laws limiting how and when abortion can be legally performed. Many of these restrictions are likely consistent with Americans' sensitivities to abortion, but that alignment could change.

"Roe v. Wade at 40: Most Oppose Overturning Abortion Decision" (January 16, 2013)[edit]

Joseph Liu, "Roe v. Wade at 40: Most Oppose Overturning Abortion Decision"., (January 16, 2013).

  • As the 40th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision approaches, the public remains opposed to completely overturning the historic ruling on abortion. More than six-in-ten (63%) say they would not like to see the court completely overturn the Roe v. Wade decision, which established a woman’s constitutional right to abortion at least in the first three months of pregnancy. Only about three-in-ten (29%) would like to see the ruling overturned. These opinions are little changed from surveys conducted 10 and 20 years ago.
    Decades after the Supreme Court rendered its decision, on Jan. 22, 1973, most Americans (62%) know that Roe v. Wade dealt with abortion rather than school desegregation or some other issue. But the rest either guess incorrectly (17%) or do not know what the case was about (20%). And there are substantial age differences in awareness: Among those ages 50 to 64, 74% know that Roe v. Wade dealt with abortion, the highest percentage of any age group. Among those younger than 30, just 44% know this.
  • There continue to be substantial religious and partisan differences over whether to overturn Roe v. Wade, and over the broader question of whether abortion should be legal or illegal in all or most cases.
    White evangelical Protestants are the only major religious group in which a majority (54%) favors completely overturning the Roe v. Wade decision. Large percentages of white mainline Protestants (76%), black Protestants (65%) and white Catholics (63%) say the ruling should not be overturned. Fully 82% of the religiously unaffiliated oppose overturning Roe v. Wade.
    Half of Americans who attend religious services at least weekly favor completely overturning the Roe v. Wade decision, compared with just 17% of those who attend less often.
    Republicans are evenly divided over whether the ruling should be overturned: 46% say it should, while 48% say it should not. By wide margins, Democrats (74% to 20%) and independents (64% to 28%) oppose overturning Roe v. Wade.
    There is no gender gap in opinions about Roe v. Wade: Nearly identical percentages of women (64%) and men (63%) oppose reversing the decision.
  • There also are educational differences in awareness of which issue Roe v. Wade addressed. Fully 91% of those with post-graduate education know it dealt with abortion, as do 79% of college graduates, 63% of those with only some college experience and 47% of those with no more than a high school education.
    Identical percentages of women and men (62% each) are aware that Roe dealt with abortion. Nearly seven-in-ten Republicans (68%) answered this question correctly, compared with 63% of independents and 57% of Democrats.
  • Those who would like to see Roe v. Wade overturned are particularly inclined to view abortion as a critical issue facing the country. Nearly four-in-ten (38%) of those who support overturning the abortion ruling say abortion is a critical issue, compared with just 9% of those who oppose overturning Roe v. Wade. Among those who favor retaining Roe, 68% say abortion is not that important compared with other issues.
  • Those who favor overturning Roe v. Wade overwhelmingly say it is morally wrong to have an abortion; fully 85% express this view. Opinions about the morality of abortion are more divided among those who oppose overturning Roe. Nearly four-in-ten (38%) say abortion is not a moral issue, while 29% say having an abortion is morally wrong; just 17% of those who favor retaining Roe view abortion as morally acceptable.
    Overall, nearly one-in-five Americans (18%) say they personally believe that abortion is morally unacceptable, yet also oppose the Supreme Court overturning its Roe v. Wade ruling.

"Americans Narrowing Support for Abortion" (June 18, 2000)[edit]

Rubin, Allisa J. (June 18, 2000). "Americans Narrowing Support for Abortion" Los Angeles Times. Retrieved January 11, 2007.

  • Despite the increasing level of discomfort with the high court’s ruling--43% of current survey respondents express support for Roe, compared with 56% in 1991--the poll shows continued opposition to a constitutional ban on abortion.
  • In recent years, Roe has been invoked by abortion opponents as a barrier to imposing limits on abortion, said Harvard’s Blendon. As a result, increasing numbers of Americans may view Roe as an obstacle to adopting restrictions for which there is broad support.
  • Typically when abortion rights are threatened, support for legal abortion rises, according to polling experts.
    In the last decade, for example, previous polls show support for Roe peaking at 56% around 1991, when the decision was under attack across the country. Most states had pushed measures through their legislatures that either put strict limits on abortion or even banned it altogether.
  • In a 1996 poll, 46% of respondents endorsed Roe vs. Wade. By 1999, support had slipped slightly to 43%, the same level as in the current poll.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

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