Roe v. Wade

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Roe v. Wade (1973) has probably generated more passion among its opponents and proponents of any decision in the Supreme Court’s history. The Court, in a 7–2 decision authored by Justice Harry Blackmun, struck down a Texas law (similar to those in many other states) prohibiting abortions except to save the life of the mother. The rationale given by the Court was that the law invaded a woman’s right to privacy—namely, whether or not to terminate her pregnancy—and therefore was a violation of the liberty protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Court did not make this an unlimited right, however, except for the first three months of the pregnancy. In the next three months, it allowed the state to regulate the abortion procedure for the sake of the health of the mother. In the final three months of the pregnancy, when the fetus is viable (meaning that it has the capacity for meaningful life outside the womb), it allowed the state not only to regulate but even to forbid abortions unless one would be necessary to preserve the life or health of the mother.

Robert W. Langran

Last Updated: 2006

SEE ALSO: Abortion; Griswold v. Connecticut