Roe vs. Wade: The Decision and its Impact on American Society

"The Court today is correct in holding that the right asserted by Jane Roe is embraced within the personal liberty protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. It is evident that the Texas abortion statute infringes that right directly. Indeed, it is difficult to imagine a more complete abridgment of a constitutional freedom than that worked by the inflexible criminal statute now in force in Texas. The question then becomes whether the state interests advanced to justify this abridgment can survive the ‘particularly careful scrutiny’ that the Fourteenth Amendment here requires. The asserted state interests are protection of the health and safety of the pregnant woman, and protection of the potential future human life within her. But such legislation is not before us, and I think the Court today has thoroughly demonstrated that these state interests cannot constitutionally support the broad abridgment of personal liberty worked by the existing Texas law. Accordingly, I join the Court\'s opinion holding that that law is invalid under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment" (Craig and O’Brien 17).

On January twenty-second, 1973 Justice Harry Blackmun delivered the opinion of the Supreme Court regarding the Roe vs. Wade case. A pregnant single woman, "Jane Roe," brought a class action lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the Texas criminal abortion laws, which proscribed procuring or attempting an abortion except on medical advice for the purpose of saving the mother\'s life. Norma McCorvey, the real name of the plaintiff, was young and divorced at the time, searching for a solution to her unplanned pregnancy. "No legitimate doctor in Texas would touch me," stated McCorvey. "There I was – pregnant, unmarried, unemployed, alone and stuck" (Craig and O’Brien 5). The plaintiff\'s assertion was that prohibiting abortion at any time before birth violated a woman\'s constitutional right to privacy. The Supreme Court later agreed with Mrs. McCorvey, justifying the legality of abortion under the fourteenth amendment. A person’s right to privacy now extended to choosing an abortion. Although the Court avoided the issue of when life actually begins, abortion became legal under this landmark Supreme Court decision. The debate over the legality of abortion had taken place in America for several decades, and the final decision rendered by Roe vs. Wade resonated among all Americans, influencing society to date.

Until the last third of the nineteenth century, when it was criminalized state by state across the land, abortion was legal before "quickening," which is approximately the fourth month of pregnancy. Colonial home medical guides gave recipes for instigating abortions with herbs that could be grown in one\'s garden or easily found in the woods. By the mid-eighteenth century, commercial preparations were widely available. Unfortunately, these drugs were often fatal. The first statutes regulating abortion, passed in the 1820s and 1830s, were actually poison-control laws: the sale of commercial abortifacients was banned, but abortion itself was not outlawed. Despite these new laws, the abortion business was booming by the 1840’s, including the sale of illegal drugs, which were widely advertised in the popular press.

However, this trend would soon change. Following the 1840’s, abortion would soon be under attack, and a string of anti-abortion laws would be passed until the twentieth century. The leading force behind the criminalization of abortion was physicians and the American Medical Association. The AMA was founded in 1847, and the illegalization of abortion was one of its highest priorities. To the growing movement, "abortion was both an immoral act and a medically dangerous one, given the incompetence of many of the practitioners then" (Joffe 28). However, the opposition went beyond these factors. To many people during the end of the nineteenth century, abortion represented a threat to male authority and the traditional role of a woman in the time period. Abortion was a symbol of unbridled female sexuality, expressing selfish and self-indulgent qualities. The AMA’s Committee on Criminal Abortion expressed this view blatantly in 1871. "She yields to the pleasures – but shrinks from the pains and responsibilities of maternity; and, destitute of all delicacy and refinement, resigns herself, body and soul, into the hands of unscrupulous and wicked men" (Joffe 29). As the twentieth century dawned, over forty states had completely outlawed abortion unless the mother’s