Roe v. Wade: The past, present, and future


(Courtesy of Gallup)

Public opinion polls over abortion rights and legality.

     Editor’s note:

     As this court case is widely controversial for both political parties, this is not an opinion piece but instead an overview of the case and how it has affected the lives of American women. 

     History of the issue:

     According to Oyez, in 1970, Jane Roe, later identified as Norma McCorvey, challenged Henry Wade, who was a district attorney in Dallas County, filing a lawsuit against Wade. Roe resided in Texas, where a state law was in place, only allowing a woman to get an abortion if she received doctor’s orders that an abortion was needed to save a woman’s life. 

     In this lawsuit, Roe argued that this law was unconstitutional, vague and that it violated her right to personal privacy, which was protected by the First, Fourth, Ninth, and Fourteenth Amendments. 

     The Supreme Court voted in favor of Roe, with a 7-2 decision, stating that the Fourteenth Amendment protected a woman’s choice of whether or not to have an abortion and highlighted the “right to privacy” as a fundamental right. 

     They balanced their decision against the American government’s interest in protecting the life and health of women, along with “the potentiality of human life.” 

     The Supreme Court first had to decide if the case was up for debate, which they soon concluded that it was not, stating that the case was “capable of repetition yet evading review.” 

     In their decision, the Supreme Court clarified that during the first trimester of pregnancy, the state has no control over the regulation of a woman and doctor’s decision on whether or not to have an abortion. However, in the second trimester, each state has the option of whether or not to set regulations on abortion that are focused on the health of the woman. When the third trimester hits, the fetus reaches the point of “viability,” in which a state has the option of whether to regulate abortions or ban them entirely, as long as the laws contain exceptions for special cases in which abortion is necessary for the health or life of the woman. 

     Roe v. Wade’s effect on present-day society: 

     In 1920 the ACLU was founded, which recognized that personal privacy, contraceptive rights, the right to abortion, the right to bear a child, and reproductive rights are among some of the most important constitutional liberties. 

     The ACLU created the Reproductive Freedom Project in 1974, which was used to defend and expand a woman’s right to choose. 

     “When we go to court to defend these principles, we litigate in association with our affiliates around the nation and often with other allies as well,” the ACLU said.

     According to Planned Parenthood, in 1965, before Roe v. Wade was put into effect, abortion was so unsafe that 17% of all deaths due to pregnancy and childbirth were the result of illegal abortions. This contrasts with today’s society as only 0.3% of women undergoing legal abortions sustain a serious complication that requires hospitalization. 

     Although the risk of death increases with the length of the pregnancy, the percentage of these situations has decreased dramatically in the past fifty years.

     In 2005, the maternal mortality rate in the United States of America on ending a pregnancy via abortion was about one per 100,000 procedures, according to Planned Parenthood.

     “They [members of the Pro-Choice Movement] worry that if the procedure is banned, it will force women to seek an illegal abortion in conditions that are not safe or sterile, as was the custom prior to Roe v. Wade,” said Highlands High School U.S. Government and Politics Teacher Kym Grillot. 

     The ability to make the decision of whether or not to their pregnancy via abortion has enabled women to pursue educational and employment opportunities that were often unthinkable prior to Roe v. Wade. 

     Over the next three decades, the Supreme Court was repeatedly called upon to decide whether a wide range of abortion statutes violated a woman’s right to privacy. Many of these restrictions were soon found unconstitutional. 

     In 1970, as childbearing was still closely tied to marriage, those who conceived were likely to marry before the birth occurred. According to The Conversation, along with this, it was uncommon for women with children under 6 years old to be employed in the workforce.

     “In regards to reproductive rights in general, some of the argument is also about having contraceptives more readily available for free, or at least a lower cost, to women regardless of income level,” said Grillot. 

     In today’s society, women are marrying at the age of 27 on average, according to Statista

     Pew Research Center studies show that 25 percent of today’s young adults may never marry, which is a stark difference from almost two generations before us. 

     Along with this, according to BLS Beta Labs, the majority of college students are women, making a women’s place in the workforce invaluable. 

     Why Roe v. Wade doubts after historic events in the Supreme Court: 

     Before the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, she announced her belief that the future of Roe v. Wade was under duress. Ginsburg was mainly concerned over the fate of impoverished women living in states that are hostile towards the Roe v. Wade case. 

     “The women who won’t have that choice are poor women. That doesn’t make a whole lot of sense,” said Ginsburg. 

     Almost eight months after Ginsburg’s death, the Supreme Court justices, specifically Amy Coney Barrett who took her seat, announced that they would put a Mississippi law that directly challenges Roe into place.

     According to the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports the women’s right to choose, there are about 12 states that have trigger laws in place, that would immediately ban abortion if Roe v. Wade was overruled. Along with this, the institute estimates that as many as 26 states would institute some sort of abortion-access restrictions within a year of Roe v. Wade being overturned. 

     Barrett’s vote will likely make a big difference on Roe v. Wade. According to CNN, she began as a law professor working for a Catholic University, in which she made it clear that she was opposed to abortion. 

     Like Barrett, many Right to Life advocates hope that the Supreme Court will overturn Roe, and leave the decision up to each individual state

     However, many of her opposers are worried that Barrett will attempt to dismantle the legacy of the late Ginsburg. 

     No matter how much the Democratic party grilled Barrett on the topic of abortion, she stated that she would leave her beliefs at the door. 

     “My policy views, my moral convictions, my religious beliefs do not bear on how I decide cases nor should they,” said Barrett. 

     As well as this, currently, there are five states that only have one abortion clinic left (Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota, and West Virginia), according to CNN.

     Laws in Mississippi bar most abortions after 15 weeks, which was put into place in 2018, in which there is no exception for cases of rape or incest. 

     The implications of this Mississippi law violate the essential guidelines of Roe v. Wade. This in turn would render Roe v. Wade ineffective if the Supreme Court continues to allow states to dictate laws on abortion. 

     “The Supreme Court, up until now, has said that states may regulate the access to the procedure to varying degrees but not ban it outright,” said Grillot. 

     According to Forbes, despite the controversy of Roe v. Wade, it was polled that 80% of Americans support abortion in all or most cases, and at least 60% support Roe v. Wade. 

     Even without the court explicitly overruling Roe, a new legal standard could be announced that would leave Roe useless. This decision could easily leave the legality of abortion in the hands of the states, letting the states have free access to whether or not to restrict abortions, according to Vox

     A challenge to a Texas law that is still pending before the court, according to The Chronicle, is a law that makes it illegal for doctors or clinics to terminate a pregnancy after six weeks. 

     What the future may look like without Roe v. Wade: 

     If the Supreme Court were to overturn Roe v. Wade, it would put the state’s responsibility into question. The federal government’s authority would be challenged, making those question if states should be responsible for this “fundamental right,” along with topics such as vaccination mandates, school curriculums, gender identity laws, etc, according to WSJ. This would lead to the disruption of American politics, as the federal government would be further pushed into question. 

     According to Forbes, abortion is way more common in low-income women, holding three-quarters of American abortion patients. Along with this, more than half of abortion patients are people of color, who people in both of these categories already face significant financial and logistical barriers in accessing essential health care. In today’s society, abortion is a part of reproductive health care, as one in four American women will have an abortion before they turn 45.

     In low-income women, the consequences of Roe being overturned would fall most on these individuals rather than higher-income women. 

     It is the opinion of many, that in an America without Roe v. Wade, the wellbeing of the woman would be in peril. 

     Vice President Kamala Harris expressed her concern for the future of Roe v. Wade. 

     “Women will die. In particular, women who don’t have the economic resources and can’t then travel to places or somehow have safe reproductive health care, including abortion. And it is not an extreme statement, it is a fact.” 

     However, many supporters of the Right to Life Movement were quick to disagree with Harris.  

     Both sides arguments: 

     In America, there is a divide in this issue, through the Right to Life Movement and the Pro-Choice Movement.

     In the case of the Right to Life Movement, the issue is a moral one, as they believe in protecting the rights of the fetus. These individuals have the moral standing that the fetus has the same natural rights as any American citizen, which include natural rights to life, liberty, and property, along with the right to due process. 

     According to the National Right to Life (NRLC), Pro-life individuals cite the Declaration of Independence and the statement that all American citizens are “created equal” and are born “with certain unalienable rights.” 

     “National Right to Life carries out its lifesaving mission by promoting respect for the worth and dignity of every individual human being, born or unborn, including unborn children from their beginning; those newly born; persons with disabilities; older people; and other vulnerable people, especially those who cannot defend themselves,” said the NRLC.

     They also cite the Fourteenth Amendment in their argument, as it states that all American citizens of age are protected and treated with equality. This leads them to believe that Roe v. Wade Supreme Court case decision was an incorrect interpretation of the U.S. Constitution. 

     “Adding to their displeasure, they believe the decision was an incorrect interpretation of the Constitution – mainly because of the court’s interpretation of privacy, which isn’t specifically mentioned in the Constitution but is inferred if you look at many parts of the document,” said Grillot.

     This group has believed for many years that under Federalism, each individual state should be able to decide their stance on abortion, then choose their own abortion. They believe that a national “one-size fits all” policy is purely unconstitutional under the Tenth Amendment. 

     Due to the lack of specifics on state and federal balance of power, the Tenth Amendment was included in the Bill of Rights to clear up confusion. According to Annenberg Classroom, the Tenth Amendment states that the federal government only has specific powers that have been granted by the Constitution. 

     According to Pro-Choice America, some radicals in this group have taken more extreme measures to get their message across, such as, bombing abortion clinics, opening anti-abortion clinics, and even murdering doctors who provide abortions. 

     However, in the case of the Pro-Choice Movement, the issue is in the choice of the doctor and woman, as they believe that women should have the right to determine their own reproductive rights, which was what was the original intent of Roe v. Wade. Along with this, they also believe that a woman’s right to choose should not be left up to what state you live in or what political part controls and the state legislature. 

     Due to such amendments as the First, Third, Fourth, Fifth, Ninth, and Fourteenth Amendments, the Pro-Choice Movements believes that a right to privacy is crucial to the natural rights of American citizens.

     “They take it to mean that they do have the right to privacy and they do have the right to control their reproductive rights,” said Grillot. 

     They cite the Ninth Amendment, which was written by the framers, that individuals have more rights than the U.S. Constitution specifically mentions.

     Pro-choice supporters also worry that the government will override the choice and opinion of the woman and her health care provider when it comes to the safety of the woman. 

     “When the right to abortion is endangered, the fundamental equality of women is threatened. A woman can never be equal if she is denied the basic right to make decisions for herself and her family,” said Pro-Choice America. 

     Even though both groups are divided on this topic, they both want to reach their goals through using education, political action, legislation, and rallying supporters to their cause, which the NRLC and Pro-Choice America both cite in their mission statements. 

     However controversial this issue is, it is divided like all things in politics. People on both sides of this argument are very passionate on this issue, whether they are for or against the decision on Roe v. Wade.