Roe vs. Wade was a historic decision that established women's access to abortion in the United States. In 1973, a Texas woman using the pseudonym "Jane Roe" sued her state for criminalizing abortion, arguing Texas' abortion laws her right to privacy and freedom under the Fourteenth Amendment. The Supreme court decided that Texas' ban on abortion was, in fact, unconstitutional and guaranteed women the right to perform abortions freely in the first trimester. However, the recent turn of events has left many confused as to what will happen with this law. Read on to learn more about Roe Vs. Wade and why it was overturned.
Understanding Roe vs Wade
In the 1970's, a woman named Norma McCorvey filed a request for a medical abortion. She had already given her first two children to adoption and felt like terminating her pregnancy would be the best option given her poor upbringing. However, her request was denied by the state because, at the time, abortions were strictly forbidden in Texas and in fact, in most of the United States. The only exception to that rule was if the mother's life was at risk.
McCorvey then assumed the legal pseudonym of "Jane Roe" to protect her privacy and decided to go to Court arguing that her state's abortion laws were unconstitutional. The case went all the way to the federal supreme Court, where the judges ruled in her favor (7-2), concluding that the right to end pregnancy belongs to the individual, not the government.
The Supreme Court also ruled that the right to abortion is not absolute and must be weighed against the government's interest in preserving the health and fetus's life. The Court reconciled these opposing interests by establishing a pregnancy trimester schedule that would regulate all United States abortion rules.
In the first trimester, terminating a pregnancy should be at the mother's discretion. The state can regulate the procedure during the second trimester but can not outlaw it. After the third trimester, the fetus is considered "viable"; therefore, the government can regulate abortions in the interest of the potential life.
Why Was It Overturned ?
Roe was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court's judgment in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization case earlier this year. The trial involved a 2018 Mississippi legislation that prohibited nearly all abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.
The state law was in direct opposition to the Roe Vs. Wade decision that established that states could only ban the procedure after viability which only occurs after 23 weeks.
Lower courts had previously ruled that the law was in fact, unconstitutional, but when the case reached the Supreme Court the decision was ruled 6-3 to sustain the Mississippi abortion ban.
Typically, all states must adhere to Supreme Court judgments and must often adhere to prior rulings (a legal concept known as "stare decisis"). The principle of stare decisis holds true that that was previously determined and that matters should not be revisited so that judgments are predictable, consistent, and trustworthy.
In 1992, in a case involving abortion rights, Casey v. ROE, the Supreme Court stressed the significance of stare decisis and said that reversing Roe would come at too large a cost to those who had depended on the judgment for two decades.
However, less than 30 years after Casey, the Supreme Court changed direction in Dobbs, ruling that Roe must be overridden arguing that it was "egregiously wrong, damaging and an abuse of judicial authority."
With the overturn of Roe vs. Wade, 12 Republican states are now fully enforcing the abortion ban after 15 weeks of pregnancy as they have similar laws to that of Mississippi:
- North Dakota
- South Dakota
The states of Ohio and Virginia now ban abortion after six weeks of pregnancy and Florida, Utah, Carolina, and Indiana ban abortion after 15, 18, 20, and 22 weeks of pregnancy.
These Democratic-led states continue to preserve the right to abortion:
- The District of Columbia
- New Jersey
- New York
- Rhode Island