Roe at a glance: The history and future of abortion debates
Learn about the basics of Roe v. Wade, the monumental 1973 Supreme Court case that established the right to abortion for every citizen in the United States.
Roe v. Wade is the monumental 1973 Supreme Court case that established the right to abortion in the first trimester of pregnancy for every citizen in the United States.
Jane Roe, a pseudonym for Norma McCorvey, sued Henry Wade, the district attorney of Dallas County, Texas, when she was pregnant for the third time as an unmarried and unemployed 22-year-old in 1969. At this point, Texas had a state law prohibiting abortion unless it was needed to save a woman’s life.
Although McCorvey had already given birth to a baby girl by the time the Supreme Court made their decision, it ultimately led to a ruling in favor of the question, “Does the Constitution recognize a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy by abortion?” The 7-2 majority opinion, delivered by Justice Harry Blackmun, claimed that a woman’s choice to have an abortion during the first three months of her pregnancy would be left to her and her doctor. The opposed justices argued against the lack of privacy rights granted by the Constitution.
According to PBS, before the Supreme Court Case, abortion had been fully legal in four states, allowed within limited circumstances in 16 states and completely illegal in 30 states. This decision overrode the bans in the 30 states, even though they all proceeded to pass laws against abortion during the second and third trimesters.
Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization is a new Supreme Court case that was argued on Dec. 1, 2021. This case questions the constitutionality of Mississippi’s ban on elective abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. For the first time in generations, the Supreme Court is considering the request to overturn Roe v. Wade, essentially leaving the decision on the legality of abortion up to each state individually.
On May 2, 2022, Politico published a leaked draft opinion written by Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito which states that the U.S. Constitution does not protect the right to abortion. Another question that arises as a result of this leak relates to the role of the press in controversial political issues such as this one. When Politico received this draft, they chose to release it to the public, putting themselves on the record for the authenticity and trustworthiness of the information.
Although this is only a draft, not the final ruling, it would serve as the first time in history that the Supreme Court has taken away a fundamental constitutional right that people have depended on for almost 50 years.
This leak from the Supreme Court majorly damages the public’s trust in the authority and integrity of their decisions. If information from what is supposed to be the highest court in the federal judiciary can be leaked, the world is curious as to what else may be unprotected. This court is meant to be the most dependable in the entire country, so what does it mean if they cannot protect their own documents? Since the Supreme Court confirmed the authenticity of the leak, they have been investigating who may have been behind it, but they have not come any closer to finding the answers they are looking for.
Even though the leaked report does not contain the final Supreme Court decision, there are still questions as to what will happen if Roe v. Wade is overturned. As a principle in the Constitution, anything that is not regulated at a federal level then defers to state governments. The same thing will happen with the issue of abortion.
Thirteen states have passed trigger laws banning abortion. Trigger laws are laws that will go into effect once they are legally allowed, which in this case is after Roe v. Wade is overturned. In total, there are 22 states with laws that can be used to restrict abortion. There are only 16 states and the District of Columbia that have passed laws protecting the right to abortion.
Alternatively, New Jersey is one of these 16 states that has confirmed their position in favor of abortion. Gov. Phil Murphy released a statement that the state will be formally legalizing abortion, even once Roe v. Wade is overturned.
The impact of overturning Roe v. Wade would be incredibly widespread beyond abortion and reproductive rights. Many other Supreme Court cases, such as Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized same-sex marriage, and Griswold v. Connecticut, which legalized birth control and contraceptives, used the ruling from Roe v. Wade as the basis of their argument.
With the Supreme Court poised to potentially strike down their previous Roe v. Wade ruling, many have looked to what toppling this precedent could mean for these other cases. It was such a long and difficult process to get support for these issues in the first place, and there has been a lot of backlash over same-sex marriage, birth control and contraceptives. Re-evaluating these cases has the potential to overturn them as well. This would lead to countless more instances of outrage and debate over whether it is worth undoing decades of activism and petition.
Amidst these abortion changes that have inspired reactions from the public, many politicians and critics have begun linking political stances on abortion to other hot-button political topics, namely gun violence and mass shootings. High-profile shootings in Uvalde, Buffalo and Tulsa have dominated headlines, and many people have begun to connect the government responses between the topics. Many question how the government can focus on regulating abortion but ignore the demands to limit access to guns.