Roe v. Wade
Roe v. Wade was in many ways the most controversial decision enacted by the Supreme Court,
and no other court decision has been more bitterly attacked. The right of privacy is the main issue upon
which the Roe decision was based. Roe v. Wade came before the court together with a companion case,
Doe v. Bolton. In both cases, pregnant woman sought relief against state abortion laws contending they
were unconstitutional. Roe involved a Texas statute that prohibited abortions except for the purpose of
saving the mothers life. While Doe dealt with a Georgia statute allowing an abortion only when the
woman s life was endangered, when the child would be born with a severe birth defect, or when
pregnancy had resulted from rape.
Invalidating both statutes in a 7-2 ruling, the court speaking through Justice Harry Blackmun
held that the constitutional right of privacy whether based on the concept of personal liberty in the
Fourteenth Amendment or on the reservation of rights to the people in the Ninth Amendment includes the
right of a woman to decide whether or not to terminate her pregnancy. Noting that abortions had
become safer then childbirth and holding that the word person in the constitution of the Unites States
does not include the unborn.
The court defined within each of the three stages of pregnancy, the reciprocal limits of state
power and individual freedom:
1. During the first trimester, the abortion decision and its effectuation must be left to the medical
judgment of the pregnant woman s attending physician.
2. After the first trimester, the state, in promoting its interest in the health of the mother, may, if it
chooses, regulate the abortion procedure in ways that are reasonably related to maternal health.
3. 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 it is necessary, in
appropriate medical judgment, for the preservation of the life or health of the mother.
Opponents of the Supreme court decision, arguing that a fetus is entitled as a person to
constitutional protection, attacked the decision on a variety of fronts. A nationwide campaign was
instituted to amend the constitution to prohibit or severely restrict abortion. Abortion became, rather than
simply a legal and constitutional issue, a major political and social controversy. Many states passed laws
imposing additional procedural requirements on women who sought abortions but federal court decisions
holding these new laws unconstitutional usually followed each passing of the new laws.