Forty-eight years ago today, the Supreme Court handed down a decision that made a Woman’s right whether or not to choose to have an Abortion a legal right. Prior to this time it was illegal for a doctor to perform an Abortion under any circumstances, and those Women who chose to have an Abortion were forced to pursue methods that were not only unsafe, they were often times deadly.
The decision involved the case of a woman named Norma McCorvey—known in her lawsuit under the pseudonym “Jane Roe”—who in 1969 became pregnant with her third child. McCorvey wanted an abortion, but she lived in Texas, where abortion was illegal except when necessary to save the mother’s life. She was referred to lawyers Sarah Weddington and Linda Coffee, who filed a lawsuit on her behalf in U.S. federal court against her local district attorney, Henry Wade, alleging that Texas’s abortion laws were unconstitutional. A three-judge panel of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas heard the case and ruled in her favor. Texas then appealed this ruling directly to the U.S. Supreme Court, which agreed to hear the case.
In January 1973, the Supreme Court issued a 7–2 decision ruling that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides a “right to privacy” that protects a pregnant woman’s right to choose whether or not to have an abortion. But it also ruled that this right is not absolute, and must be balanced against the government’s interests in protecting women’s health and protecting prenatal life. The Court resolved this balancing test by tying state regulation of abortion to the three trimesters of pregnancy: during the first trimester, governments could not prohibit abortions at all; during the second trimester, governments could require reasonable health regulations; during the third trimester, abortions could be prohibited entirely so long as the laws contained exceptions for cases when they were necessary to save the life or health of the mother. The Court classified the right to choose to have an abortion as “fundamental”, which required courts to evaluate challenged abortion laws under the “strict scrutiny” standard, the highest level of judicial review in the United States.
But since that day in 1973, the debate continues to rage. The question of a Woman’s right to choose the destiny of her own body seems to have come into question by those, not with the proper physical parts to make that decision, who would like to revert back to the old days and dark ages. And those people, many of them, have taken it upon themselves to resort to violence under the somewhat hypocritical banner of “Right to Life”. An Epic Fail of logic you might say.
Here is that initial report as broadcast over The NBC Nightly News for January 22, 1973.