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Roe v. Wade (1973)

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Abstract

A: Name of the case: Roe v. Wade

B: Year case was decided: 1973

C: Facts of the case: Roe v. Wade case has become a historic US Supreme Court decision on the issue of legalization of abortions within the country. While the abortions were prohibited by the federal legislation, the decision on the case provided women with the right to terminate pregnancy during the first trimester without legal restrictions and with restrictions during the later terms. The decision was based on the right to privacy. Therefore, women faced a problem with the application of the legal termination of pregnancy. In 1969, Norma L. McCorvey discovered that she was pregnant with the third child. The woman decided to make an abortion but failed to find a legal solution. As a result, she was referred to attorneys L. Coffee and S. Weddington, who represented the rights of McConvey under the alias Jane Roe. The State of Texas was represented by the attorney H. Wade.

D: Legal questions presented: The case represented the issue of legality of abortions within the United States. In particular, it addressed the protection of the right to privacy and the possibility of women to make personal medical decisions without interference of the third parties.

E: Supreme Court decision: The decision on the case was made on January 22, 1973. According to the decision of the US Supreme Court in the Roe v. Wade case, a woman’s right to privacy was considered to deserve the highest level of legal protection. In particular, women were given the right to make a decision on the termination of pregnancy. However, the court also determined that the right to privacy was not absolute. The federal authorities were provided with power to prohibit abortions in the cases of protection of women’s health and safeguarding of potential lives. As a result, states got the right to abolish abortions after the viability, except for the cases that posed a threat to the women’s life or health.

Summary of the Issues of the Case

Regardless of its legality, abortions have become an effective method to control the women’s reproduction. In the United States, abortions were legally practiced until the end of the 19th century, by the time when the termination of pregnancy was allowed by the majority of states. The adoption of anti-abortion legislation was determined by the emergence of the movements for suffrage and birth control. In addition, the legislation against abortions was aimed at providing the control over the women’s health care. Indeed, until the middle of the 20th century, the process of illegal abortions was unsafe and led to nearly 20 percent of deaths during the pregnancy and childbirth (Gold, 1990). Finally, the necessity to adopt anti-abortion laws was determined by the decline in the white American population. Therefore, the laws were mainly aimed at increasing the US population. At the same time, the prohibition of abortions contributed to the violation of the women’s rights to privacy.

The case of Roe v. Wade contributed to legalization of abortions within the United States. While considering the case, the majority of the states defined abortions as illegal, except for the cases that posed a threat to the women’s health, and a limited range of reasons such as the cases of rape or fetal anomaly. The abortion itself was considered to be a common law crime. The decision on the Roe v. Wade defined the federal laws on abortions as unconstitutional. In addition, the case made the process of abortions safer and more accessible for the American women. Besides, the Roe v. Wade influenced the subsequent cases on the matter of prohibition or legalization of abortions.

In 1969, Norma L. McCorvey found that she was pregnant with the third child. Under the legislation of Texas, abortions were prohibited, except for several issues including rapes. As a result, McCorvey tried to find a way to terminate the pregnancy. The lady was unmarried and expressed the wish to make an abortion “performed by a competent, licensed physician, under safe, clinical conditions” (Faux, 2000). The process was impossible in Texas, where abortions were considered to be unconstitutional. The woman was advised to make a false assert that she had been raped. However, because of the absence of the police report that witnessed the case of rape, the scheme did not work. After that, McCorvey made an attempt of illegal abortion, which also failed. In addition, the woman did not have an opportunity to travel to another jurisdiction to terminate the pregnancy. As a result, McCorvey claimed that the provisions of the Texas legislation were unconstitutional and violated the right to privacy guaranteed by the 14th Amendment. Besides, the woman decided to file a law suit on behalf of other women who expressed the desire to terminate pregnancy. Finally, she was referred to attorneys L. Coffee and S. Weddington, who represented the rights of McConvey under the alias Jane Roe (Faux, 2000). The State of Texas was represented by the attorney H. Wade. The case was decided in favor of McCorvey. However, the decision did not approve the injunction against the legislation that forbade abortions. The decision was made on the basis of the 9th Amendment to the US Constitution and the case of Griswold v. Connecticut that underlined the importance of the right to privacy on the issue of termination of pregnancy.

Summary of the Supreme Court Decision

In 1970, Roe v. Wade was transmitted to the US Supreme Court. The considering of the case was delayed until December 1971. As a result of the hearing, all seven justices supported the necessity of legalization of abortions. However, the justices had different reasons for considering abortions constitutional. As a result, the case was reconsidered on October 11, 1972. The decision on Roe v. Wade was made on January 22, 1973. The opinion of justices divided: 7-to-2 majority supported the position of Roe and legalization of abortion. The US Supreme Court defined abortion as a fundamental right protected by the US Constitution (Faux, 2000). As a result, the Texas law was announced to violate the women’s rights under the 14th Amendment. The decision of the woman to terminate the pregnancy was considered to be constitutional and protected by the right to privacy (Faux, 2000). At the same time, the US Supreme Court declined the rationale of the lower court, which was based on the 9th Amendment to the US Constitution. On the contrary, the Supreme Court built the decision on the 14th Amendment and its concept of personal liberty. In particular, the 14th Amendment was considered to be broad enough to encompass the women’s rights in the sphere of abortions.

The decision of the US Supreme Court was made on the basis of the two completely different interests. On the one hand, the Court made an attempt to protect the health and life of the mother. On the other hand, there was a necessity to safeguard the potential human life. According to the decision of the US Supreme Court, abortions were considered to be legal during the entire period of pregnancy (Faux, 2000). At the same time, the Court determined the conditions that empowered states to regulate the pregnancy termination during the second and third trimesters. In particular, in the first trimester, the lower courts had to consider the abortion as the medical decision made by the woman’s doctor. In the second trimester, the decision on the abortion had to be made on the basis of the protection of women’s health and life. After the viability of the fetus, the state interest was to protect the potential life as well as the women’s life. Therefore, the authorities were empowered to “regulate, or even proscribe abortion,” if the decision protected women’s health (Faux, 2000).

Impact of the Case on the United States Political and Legal Environment

The Roe v. Wade case remains a controversial issue in the US legal system. There is no other case considered by the US Supreme Court that had so many disputes over the legal, religious, and ethnic aspects of the abortion. The opponents of the case accuse the Supreme Court in the usage of the constitutional justifications for legalization of the act of murder. In addition, the Roe v. Wade case lacks the political background that supports the abolition of abortions. At the same time, the supporters of the case decision underline that Roe v. Wade is an example of defense of the primary human rights.

The Roe v. Wade case had an impact on the political and legal environment in the United States as well as on the future government actions on the issue of abortions. In particular, the decision was aimed at elimination of the existing laws that forbade abortions. According to the position of the court, the decision of a woman to terminate pregnancy during the first trimester is protected by the “right of privacy founded in the 14th Amendment’s concept of personal liberty” (Moore, 2010). While the US Supreme Court left the restrictions of the abortions during the second trimester, they can be eliminated in case the pregnancy threatens the woman’s life.

During the next twenty years after the Roe v. Wade case, the US Supreme Court rejected dozens of requests to forbid abortions. The decision on the case enforced the further rulings with the provision that the regulation of abortions could be made exceptionally on the basis of the protection of life and well-being of a woman. However, there were two exceptions to the Roe v. Wade decision. For example, the Bellotti v. Baird case addressed the issue of the pregnant minors, and Harris v. McRae regulated the expenses related to the abortion process. In the first case, the minors were given the right to decide on their own whether to make an abortion without parental notification. The second case provided an opportunity for the states to receive payments necessary for abortions from the Medicaid program (Shapiro, 2007). Therefore, Roe v. Wade underlined the basis for the future development of the women’s rights.

At the same time, the opponents of the abortion rights made several attempts to introduce more restrictive laws in the sphere. As a result, the US Supreme Court was forced to impose the abortion restrictions. Despite this, in the 1992 Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey case the US Supreme Court confirmed the main principle of the Roe v. Wade case. In particular, it underlined the necessity of protection of the women’s rights to privacy. However, the Court made it more difficult for women to address the laws that prohibited abortions. Further restrictions on the women’s right to make personal medical decisions were made with the adoption of Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act. For example, the Act established the attempt to criminalize abortions and excluded the exception of the possibility to terminate pregnancy under the circumstances that posed a threat to women’s health. Moreover, the pregnancy could not be terminated during the second trimester (Partial Birth Abortion Act, 2003). Therefore, the Act reviewed the key principle of the Roe v. Wade decision that the women’s health presents an outmost importance in the addressing of the issue of the access to abortions. For the first time since the decision in the Roe v. Wade case, the US Supreme Court legalized the prohibition of abortions without adherence to the protection of women’s health (Shapiro, 2007).

At the same time, the Roe v. Wade case made an impact on the improvement of the women’s position in the American society and facilitated the development of the women’s rights. For example, an opportunity to make the health care decisions provided women with the ability to pursue educational and employment opportunities. Indeed, the connection between the Roe v. Wade case and full inclusion of women in the society was underlined by the US Supreme Court. In 1992, the US Supreme Court stated that “the ability of women to participate equally in the economic and social life of the Nation has been facilitated by their ability to control their reproductive lives” (Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, 1992). According to the author of Roe, Justice Harry Blackmun, the decision on the case has become “a step that had to be taken as we go down the road toward the full emancipation of women” (Greenhouse, 1994).

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