A legal and widespread practice in the United States until the 19th century, abortion remained commonplace, although driven underground, in the last part of the 19th century and in the first half of the 20th century. In the 1950s various women's and civil liberties groups, as well as some doctors, began to call for the repeal of laws that made abortion a crime.
In the 1960s the feminist movement made a woman's control over her body, including the right to terminate an unwanted pregnancy, a central demand of modern feminism. In response to these changed public attitudes, several states repealed or modified their anti-abortion statutes. By 1970, in New York, where laws banning abortion had been struck down, one fetus was being aborted for every two live births. In most states, however, abortions continued to be banned entirely or were severely restricted. The Supreme Court changed that situation by ruling in the 1973 case of Roe v. Wade that women, as part of their constitutional right to privacy, could freely choose to abort a fetus in the first three months (trimester) of pregnancy. States were given the right to restrict second-trimester abortions only in the interest of a woman's safety. During the third trimester, the law protects a fetus that is "viable" (able to survive outside the womb). This means that the woman's life or health must be endangered in order to abort the pregnancy.
The Roe decision did not settle the issue for Americans, however. Opponents of the ruling (particularly the Roman Catholic Church and many evangelical and fundamentalist Protestants) squared off against Roe supporters (a broad coalition of Americans led by feminist organizations) in the political arena. Frequently, a person's position on abortion became a test of his or her qualification to hold office.
Both the "right to life" and the "pro-choice" sides ferociously argued their positions when a challenge to the Roe decision came before the U.S. Supreme Court in