Roe v. Wade: A case summary
By: Susan Brown
Roe v. Wade is one of the most recognized decisions made by the Supreme Court even though it is in no way there most important one. In 1970 Linda Coffee and Sarah Weddington brought a lawsuit on behalf of a pregnant women who was a resident of Dallas named Norma L. McCorvey (“Jane Roe”). They claimed that the Texas law that criminalized most abortions violated Roe’s constitutional rights. Before this case was brought to court abortions could only be done if it was to save the life of the mother and most states had heavy restrictions or even banned the practice of abortion all together. Roe’s life was in no way endangered but she could not afford to travel to another state and she felt she had a right to terminate her pregnancy in a safe medical environment. The lawsuit was filed against Henry Wade who was the Dallas County District Attorney in a Texas federal court (PBS, 2006). The court in Texas did rule that the law violated the constitution but Wade appealed the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court which toke them 2 years to review (PBS, 2006). The decision came on January 22, 1973 and it was ruled that the Texas statute violated Jane Roe’s Constitutional right to privacy (PBS, 2006). It was a 7-2 decision made by Harry Blackmun, William J. Brennan, Chief Justice Warren Burger, William O. Douglas, Thurgood Marshall, Lewis Powell and Potter Stewart who were the majority of the vote. Those opposed were William Rehnquist and Byron White (Lewis). “The Court argued that the constitution’s First, Fourth, Ninth, and Fourteenth Amendments protect an individual’s “zone of privacy” against state laws and citied past cases ruling that marriage, contraception, and child rearing are activities covered in this “zone of privacy”. The Court then argued that the “zone of privacy” was “broad enough to encompass a women’s decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy” (PBS, 2006). The court also argued that prenatal life was not within the definition of “persons” as it is used and protected in the United States Constitution and that American criminal and civil laws only sometimes regard fetuses as persons deserving protection (PBS, 2006). Even though the Supreme Court did rule the law did violate the constitution “the Court ruled that narrower state laws regulating abortion might be sufficiently important to be constitutional” (PBS, 2006). Since a fetus can live outside of its mother’s womb after six months of growth “a state might constitutionally protect a fetus from abortions in the third trimester of pregnancy” (PBS, 2006). Other regulations were put in place for other stages of pregnancy as well. “In the first trimester, the state could treat abortion only as a medical decision, leaving medical judgment to the woman’s physician”. “In the second trimester (before viability), the state’s interest was seen as legitimate when it was protecting the health of the mother” (Lewis). So even though this case made abortion more legal it is still regulated with certain conditions. In looking at this case I thought it was important to know some background information on Norma McCorvey whose alias was Roe. She went under the alias to protect herself and her family from any harm and remained anonymous throughout the entire case. It was not until 1984 that she revealed to the world that she was Jane Roe on a television interview (West's Encyclopedia of American Law, 2005). She was born into a poor family and had a daughter and two other children who she gave up for adoption to family members and other families before she became pregnant with the child she brought this case to court for. She was out of work and since abortion was only legal if she had be raped or in the case of incest she tried to claim rape in order to get the abortion to take place, but with no police report to prove it she was unsuccessful in getting one that way. McCorvey was...
References: Lewis, J. J. (n.d.). Roe v. Wade Supreme Court Decision . Retrieved from About.com: http://womenshistory.about.com/od/abortionuslegal/p/roe_v_wade.htm
PBS. (2006, December). Supreme Court History Expanding Civil Rights . Retrieved from The Supreme Court: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/supremecourt/rights/landmark_roe.html
West 's Encyclopedia of American Law. (2005). Roe v. Wade. Retrieved from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/topic/Roe_v_Wade.aspx
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