Abortion, in brief
The US timeline of abortion rights
On June 4th, news broke that the Supreme Court overturned the 1973 landmark decision of Roe v. Wade. This means that the current court disagrees with this earlier case.
But what exactly is Roe v. Wade? And why was it overturned?
Around 1970, abortion laws started to be reformed: 16 states allowed abortion in case of special circumstances (such as rape or incest); Alaska, Hawaii, and Washington allowed state residents to obtain an abortion; and New York legalized abortion.
The remaining 30 states, however, completely prohibited abortion.
In the state of Texas, abortion could only be done if the pregnancy puts the mother’s life in danger. In 1970, state resident Jane Roe (a fictional name used to protect the plaintiff’s identity in court documents) filed a lawsuit against the district attorney of Dallas County, Henry Wade.
In her lawsuit, Roe accused the state laws regarding abortion rights.
She said that it reduced the right to personal privacy protected by the First, Fourth, Fifth, Ninth, and Fourteenth Amendments and the right to sexual privacy guaranteed by the Bill of Rights.
The state, on the other hand, argued that the fetus is considered as a person who is therefore also protected by the Fourteenth Amendment and that it was their role to safeguard health and protect prenatal life.
In 1973, the Supreme Court ruled that abortion was a constitutional right, but that it must be balanced against the government's interests in protecting health and prenatal life. They therefore divided the pregnancy period in three. During the first trimester (first three months) of pregnancy, women of all states have the right to have an abortion. During the second trimester, states could regulate abortions in the interests of the mother’s health. During the third and final trimester, states were allowed to restrict or ban abortions except when necessary to preserve the life of the mother.
In 2018, the state of Mississippi passed the “Gestational Age Act” law, which prohibits all abortions, with few exceptions, after 15 weeks of pregnancy. Soon after, a doctor from Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the only abortion provider in the entire state of Mississippi, challenged the state’s law in federal court action.
Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization lasted until 2022, when the Supreme Court issued a final decision and overruled Roe v. Wade entirely. This decision means that states are free to completely ban or severely restrict abortion access.
Today, 11 states have banned abortion with some exceptions for risk of death of pregnant person, but no exceptions for rape and incest. 16 states are likely to ban the procedure with exceptions which may vary for conditions like risk of death of pregnant person, rape, incest, ectopic pregnancies, fetal death, etc.
Abortion won’t be protected by law in New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Virginia. As for the remaining 20 states, abortion remains legal and protected by law.
By Perle Masri