Roe v. Wade
410 U.S. 113, 93 S.Ct. 705, 35 L.Ed.2d 147 (1973)

  • Roe was pregnant and wanted an abortion, but she lived in Texas where abortions were illegal.
  • Roe sued (Wade, the Dallas County DA), claiming that the Texas law was an unconstitutional violation of her right to privacy.
    • See Eisenstadt v. Baird (405 U.S. 438 (1972)), which said that a person has a fundamental privacy right to decide whether to have a child or not.
  • The Trial Court found for Roe, but refused to grant an injunction. Roe appealed.
  • The Appellate Court affirmed. Roe appealed.
  • The US Supreme Court found the Texas law to be unconstitutional.
    • The US Supreme Court found that “a State criminal abortion that excepts from criminality only a life-saving procedure on behalf of the mother, without regard to the pregnancy stage and without recognition of the other interests involved is violative of the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment.”
    • The Court noted that, at the time the Constitution was written there were no laws preventing abortion.
    • Texas argued that the purpose of the law was to protect the life of the unborn child, but the Court looked to the legislative history of the law and found that it was primarily done to protect women by restraining them from submitting to a procedure that placed their life in danger.
      • Roe argued that medical advances had made abortions much safer for the woman, so the law was no longer necessary.
    • Texas argued that the unborn baby was a ‘person’ as defined by the Constitution and was thus entitled to constitutional protections. However, the Court noted that abortion rights were much more liberal when the Constitution was written, implying that the Founders did not include the unborn in their definition of ‘person’.
      • The Court noted that under the historical common-law, ‘life’ was considered to begin at the quickening (the time when the baby’s heart can be felt beating).
    • The Court found that the right of personal privacy includes abortion decisions, but that the right is not unqualified and must be considered against important State interests in regulation.
      • The Court found that the tipping point for State interest was when the fetus was ‘viable’.
  • This case was an attempt of the State to balance the privacy rights of the mother with the State’s responsibility to protect the baby.
    • Initially, the balance is in favor of the mother’s right to privacy, but as the pregnancy continues and the baby develops, the balance tips in favor of the State’s responsibility to protect the baby.
      • See Planned Parenthood of Southeastern PA. v. Casey (505 U.S. 833 (1992)), which held that the State has an interest to protect the unborn baby, but that interest must be balanced against the privacy rights of the mother.
  • The Federal Constitution does not explicitly have a right to privacy, but the Supreme Court found a right by combining several constitutional amendments. See Griswold v. Connecticut (381 U.S. 479 (1965)).

To summarize and to repeat:

A state criminal abortion statute of the current Texas type, that excepts from criminality only a life-saving procedure on behalf of the mother, without regard to pregnancy stage and without recognition of the other interests involved, is violative of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

For the stage prior to approximately the end of the first trimester, the abortion decision and its effectuation must be left to the medical judgment of the pregnant woman’s attending physician.

For the stage subsequent to approximately the end of the first trimester, the State, in promoting its interest in the health of the mother, may, if it chooses, regulate the abortion procedure in ways that are reasonably related to maternal health.

For the stage subsequent to viability, the State in promoting its interest in the potentiality of human life may, if it chooses, regulate, and even proscribe, abortion except where it is necessary, in appropriate medical judgment, for the preservation of the life or health of the mother.