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  • Aviva Varma

Roe V. Wade

Nearly fifty years ago, Norma McCorvey, better known as “Jane Roe,” filed a lawsuit against District Attorney Henry Wade that would eventually change the lives of millions of women. As a pregnant woman who wanted to remain childless in Texas at the time, she had two choices: have an illegal abortion or give birth and put her baby up for adoption. She ended up attempting the first choice, going through with the second one, and creating a third option for countless women to follow. Thanks to her case, termed “Roe v. Wade,” the U.S Supreme Court set a precedent by deeming the Texas ban on abortion to be unconstitutional. However, it was a long process that spanned four years and ended on January 22nd, 1973. 


It began in 1969 when McCorvey found herself pregnant for the third time and sought an illegal abortion. Before that, difficult circumstances had resulted in her giving birth twice and putting both children up for adoption. Though she wound up giving birth again anyway, she desperately wanted an abortion at the time and hired Texas attorneys Linda Coffee and Sarah Weddington to challenge the state’s anti-abortion statute. They were initially successful; the district court ruled that the ban was illegal due to violating the Fourteenth Amendment right of privacy. However, it was appealed to the U.S Supreme Court in 1970, by which time McCorvey had already given birth. Regardless, after being argued and reargued, she won the case again when the seven justices unanimously agreed that the Texas ban should be overturned. It was a ruling that had a truly profound impact. 


First and foremost, the Supreme Court’s ruling established a woman’s right to have an abortion as a constitutional right. Additionally, it increased the accessibility and safety of abortion services. More abortion clinics opened up and as a result, women had greater access to them. Today, at least one abortion clinic exists in every state. Research also shows that the legalization of abortions accelerated a decrease in maternal mortality and abortion-related deaths, indicating that they were performed in safer conditions than before. Furthermore, it divided pregnancy into three trimesters and determined the legality of abortions based on them. During the first trimester, the woman has complete autonomy over her body and can choose whether or not to terminate her pregnancy. In the second trimester, the government has the authority to regulate abortions. However, it can’t ban abortions until the third trimester. That being said, many states have recently tried to increase restrictions on abortions that would ban most, if not all of them. There have even been attempts to overturn the Roe v. Wade ruling, which could possibly result in less than half the states in the U.S protecting abortion rights. It does remain rather unlikely, though. 


Regardless, the legacy of “Roe v. Wade” prevails to this day. It’s been used as a legal precedent in at least thirty subsequent cases in the U.S Supreme Court and continues to prompt questions regarding individual privacy in the context of government regulation. Where do we, as a society, draw the line between what should remain a private, individual choice and what should be overseen and supervised by the government? 

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©2020 by The Bipartisan Feminist Project.

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