Dr. Bryce Jones
Abortion is a hot debate topic. So naturally, it has generated many disputes and court cases. Two of the most famous and definitive court cases regarding abortion are Roe v Wade and Doe v Bolton. Both of these cases were ruled on at the same time. Both cases resulted in landmark decisions that would change how many states were allowed to regulate abortion. These rulings also help put into view the line between law and morals.
Roe v Wade
“Jane Roe” was actually a pseudonym for the plaintiff, Norma McCorvey. She used this for protection and also to emphasize that she was fighting for all pregnant women. The defendant was Henry Wade, district attorney for Dallas County, Texas. McCorvey’s claim was that the Texas abortion law, passed in 1859, violated her constitutional rights.
Backstory: Norma McCorvey, age 21, became pregnant in 1969. She did not want to continue with her pregnancy, as her marriage had failed and her first daughter was in the care of her mother and stepfather. As previously stated, Texas passed a law in 1869 preventing all abortion, excluding cases in which the woman’s life was in danger. She met Sarah Weddington and Linda Coffee, two attorneys who were interested in changing the abortion law.
There were two issues standing in the way: McCorvey might not have standing because the abortion law only applied to women who performed abortions, not to those who needed them. The second issue was if she passed the point in her pregnancy where it was safe to perform an abortion, the case would become irrelevant.
Their argument: in a previous case, Griswold v Connecticut, Justice William O. Douglas interpreted the Ninth Amendment to mean that any rights not explicitly granted to the government were retained by the people; previously it had been taken to mean that those rights were retained by the states. At the time of this case, this meant that all previously banned contraceptives between couples were now legal. Weddington and Coffee could argue that this “right to privacy,” as Douglas defined, should also be applied to abortion.
The first reply from Assistant D.A. John Tolle, defending D.A. Wade, claimed exactly what they had expected: “Jane Roe” had no standing since the law only affected women who performed abortions. An anonymous affidavit from McCorvey submitted to a three-judge panel on May 22, 1970, stated that she wanted to terminate her pregnancy due to “the economic hardship which pregnancy entailed and because of the social stigma attached to the bearing of illegitimate children.” At the hearing, Weddington argued on Roe’s standing to sue, as well as the constitutionality of the abortion statute (on the grounds of the First, Ninth, and Fourteenth Amendments). After the defense argued for the unborn fetus as a child, a life, Weddington brought up the issue of the impossibility to define when “life” begins (which is still one of the main arguments between pro-life and pro-choice advocates). Finally, Tolle argued that right of a child was more important than the woman’s previously stated “right to privacy.” However, the three judges found that the Texas abortion laws were unconstitutional by depriving rights dictated by the Ninth Amendment. Since this only declared the law unconstitutional and did not prevent the enforcing of the law, the plaintiffs then appealed to the Supreme Court.
In October 1972, the plaintiffs and the defendants made their cases as they had before. Several things played into the Court’s following decision: the ruling of Eisenstadt v Baird, which made it legal for unmarried persons to use birth control. This solidified Weddington’s argument for the right to privacy in the Ninth Amendment; that individuals have the right to be free from government intervention in matters such as whether or not to have a child. Second, Justice Harry Blackmun, after reviewing the abortion statutes, ruled that they...
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