Roe v. Wade was a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1973 that protected a pregnant woman's right to choose to have an abortion without excessive government restriction. The decision effectively struck down federal and state abortion laws and ignited an ongoing debate in the United States about whether or to what extent abortion should be legal.
With this week's leaked opinion suggesting Roe v. Wade is about to be struck down, The Washington Post revisited some of the facts of the case.
Who was Jane Roe, and how did she transform abortion rights? (The Washington Post)
Excerpts from The Washington Post:
"Jane Roe" was a pseudonym for Norma McCorvey, who as a 22-year-old unmarried woman in Dallas in 1970 wanted to terminate her pregnancy. McCorvey, who had a 9th-grade education, previously had another child out of wedlock and had given the baby up for adoption. "I was a woman alone with no place to go and no job. No one wanted to hire a pregnant woman. I felt there was no one in the world who could help me," she told the Southern Baptist Convention news service in 1973.
After McCorvey realized she was pregnant, she went to see two Dallas attorneys who were seeking a case to challenge the Texas abortion law. Both Linda Coffee and Sarah Weddington were recent graduates of the University of Texas Law School. They filed a suit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas on behalf of "Jane Roe" and a married couple identified only as "Jane and John Doe." The suit argued the Texas law was "cruel" and "inadequate," especially for poor women who couldn’t afford to travel to other states to get legal abortions.
Henry Wade was the Dallas County district attorney who enforced the Texas abortion law. Wade had gained attention in 1962, when he was scheduled to prosecute Lee Harvey Oswald for assassinating President John F. Kennedy in Dallas. Instead, Wade oversaw the conviction of Dallas nightclub owner Jack Ruby for fatally shooting Oswald at Dallas police headquarters.
The court ruled "that a woman has an absolute right during the first three months of pregnancy to decide whether to bear her child," After the first trimester, abortion can’t be banned before the pregnancy is "viable" — in other words, before a baby would be able to survive outside the womb. Justice Harry Blackmun, in the majority opinion, wrote, "This right of privacy, whether it be founded in the Fourteenth Amendment’s concept of personal liberty and restrictions upon state action, as we feel it is, or ... in the Ninth Amendment’s reservation of rights to the people, is broad enough to encompass a woman’s decision whether to terminate her pregnancy."
In terms of what this decision could mean for the future, The New York Times writes that the leaked Supreme Court draft opinion describes a United States not seen in half a century, in which the legal status of abortion is entirely up to the states. If the draft ends up being similar to the court’s final opinion, expected next month, reproductive rights will be rewritten almost immediately.
What Would the End of Roe Mean? Key Questions and Answers. (The New York Times)