Abortion Controversy Remains 40 Years After Roe v. Wade

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Source: Clinton Street Theater, “40th Anniversary of Roe v. Wade,” cstpdx.com (accessed Jan. 15, 2013)

Jan. 22, 2013 marks the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, a landmark Supreme Court decision that deemed abortion legal under the US Constitution. The controversy over the 1973 case remains part of the national debate over abortion today. Proponents contend that abortion is a right that should not be limited by governmental or religious authority, and opponents assert that abortion is the immoral killing of an innocent human being because life begins at conception.

Roe v. Wade was filed on behalf of a pregnant single woman who challenged a Texas law that permitted abortion only to save the life of the mother. At the time of the court’s decision, 30 states had laws similar to the Texas law. The Supreme Court ruled 7-2 that a fundamental right to privacy under the due process clause of the 14th Amendment extended to a woman’s decision to have an abortion.

The Supreme Court’s decision also stated that a woman’s right to privacy must be balanced against protecting prenatal life and the health of the mother. The Court held that different levels of state regulation would be legal based on the stage of the pregnancy. According to PBS Frontline, states “could not prohibit abortion in the first trimester of pregnancy; in the second trimester, states could issue regulations ‘that are reasonably related to maternal health’; and in the final trimester, once the fetus is viable beyond the womb, the state could regulate or even prohibit abortion except in cases ‘where it is necessary, in appropriate medical judgment, for the preservation of the life or health of the mother.'”

Christine Flowers, columnist at the Philadelphia Daily News, wrote: “Forty years ago, seven Supreme Court justices declared that abortion was a ‘right,’ thereby reducing human life to a commodity that could be dissected into sterile, three-month packages and assigned varying levels of importance depending upon the whims and will of another party: the mother… The abortion rights movement has coarsened our perception of humanity and allowed us to start measuring the value of our brothers and sisters by how much they contribute to our own well-being…”

The pro-choice non-profit Guttmacher Institute said in a press release: “Roe has had a dramatic impact on the health and well-being of American women. Abortion is now safer and occurs earlier in pregnancy than ever before… [K]eeping abortion legal and safe – and accessible to all women – is and must always remain an urgent national priority.”

In 2012, 42 states and the District of Columbia enacted 122 pieces of legislation related to reproductive health and rights, according to the Guttmacher Institute. Forty-three of these provisions sought to restrict access to abortion services, the second-highest number of new abortion restrictions passed in one year since Roe v. Wade.


Christine Flowers, “Guest View: Roe v. Wade Started Us on Slippery Slope of Dehumanization,” winonadailynews.com, Jan. 14, 2013

Cornell University Law School, “Roe v. Wade,” law.cornell.edu (accessed Jan. 15, 2013)

Guttmacher Institute, “2012 Saw Second-Highest Number of Abortion Restrictions Ever,” guttmacher.org, Jan. 2, 2013

Elizabeth Limbach, “Forty Years After Roe v. Wade,” gtweekly.com, Jan. 15, 2013

PBS Frontline, “Roe v. Wade and Beyond,” pbs.org, Jan. 19, 2006

Mary Wood, “State Regulation of Late Abortion and the Physician’s Duty of Care to the Viable Fetus,” Missouri Legal Review, 1980