In June 1969, Norma McCorvey (Roe) who is a resident in Taxes discovered that she was pregnant. She wanted to have an abortion, but the Taxes law prevented her from doing. So she lied that she had been raped in order to obtain a legal abortion (under the anti-abortion laws in Taxes, abortion is allowed in the cases of rape). But she failed, because there was no police report or other documents to support she was raped. At the end, she was referred to attorneys Linda Coffee and Sarah Weddington.
In 1970, Roe’s attorneys filed lawsuit in a U.S. District Court in Texas on behalf of her. Dallas County District Attorney Henry Wade, representing the State of Texas was the defendant. She sought to have an injunction issued against the statute’s enforcement so that she might go forward with the abortion. At the end, the district court ruled in Roe’s favor but declined to grant an injunction. Finally, Roe v. Wade reached the U.S. Supreme Court on appeal.
Majority Opinion: the majority opinion was written by Harry Blackmun that a woman has the right to terminate a pregnancy on her own as long as the fetus becomes viable. In the context of this decision the viability means autonomy, “the ability to exist outside the mother’s body, including the obligate medical support.” Approximate dates of achievement of autonomy is 7 months (28 weeks), however, the threshold can be lowered to 24 weeks. In the late stages of pregnancy, abortion can be performed only if the preservation of the fetus is a danger to the mother. This rate is set in a decision in the case Doe v. Bolton. The basis of the decision was the right to privacy, derived from the article about the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. (Hull 2004)
Concurrence: Seven of the nine justices were in favor of Roe, and the Verdict was written by Judge Harry Blackmun alone. Thus, on January 22, 1973 U.S. Supreme Court by a majority of votes annulled a law in Texas that prohibits abortion in all cases except the threat to the mother’s life. The law was recognized as opposite to the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and as a consequence it was declared unconstitutional. The laws on abortion were annulled in forty-five states, and abortions in the U.S. has become legal for any reason up to the moment when the fetus becomes viable.” ()
Dissent: Two of the judges, Byron White and William Rehnquist, had a dissenting opinion. Justice White wrote:
I find nothing in the language or history of the Constitution to support the Court’s judgment. The Court simply fashions and announces a new constitutional right for pregnant mothers and, with scarcely any reason or authority for its action, invests that right with sufficient substance to override most existing state abortion statutes”. (Rubin 1994)
In his opinion, to decide what has priority – the life of the fetus or well-being of the mother – should be the priority of people through the ordinary political processes. White claimed that the Court “values the convenience of the pregnant mother more than the continued existence and development of the life or potential life that she carries.” (The Economist 2005)
Rehnquist thought it wrong to invoke the Fourteenth Amendment, since being adopted in 1868 it didn’t affect already existing in the thirty-one state laws on abortion. He argued that there were no question concerning the validity of that provision when the Fourteenth Amendment had been adopted. Therefore, in his view, “the drafters did not intend to have the Fourteenth Amendment withdraw from the States the power to legislate with respect to this matter.” (The Economist 2005)
It was stated in the verdict of the court that “The harm caused by the State to the pregnant woman by denying her the right to choose is quite obvious … Unplanned births aggravate her plight and in this case it may cause moral damage, as the duty of care for the child may undermine the spiritual and physical health of woman. This also brings suffering to all interested parties in any way related to the unwanted child. Therefore, there is a problem o birth of baby in the family, which is unable both psychologically and physically to take care of it in full” . (Findlaw.com)
First of all it is necessary to point that the possibility to review the case in the Supreme Court was not obvious, as there is a rule that the U.S. Supreme Court allows only real controversy. Given that at the material time the plaintiff has already managed to give birth, her own real deal and, accordingly, the associated legal conflict was settled. And she could not act on behalf of all women. But the court, however, given that if termination of pregnancy meant the completion of the trial, the controversy on the pregnancy and abortion were rarely able to pass the first instance, decided to make an exception (not the first time in history), based on the possibility of a similar situation. Justice Harry Blackman stated that: Â«If that termination makes a case moot, pregnancy litigation seldom will survive much beyond the trial stage, and appellate review will be effectively deniedÂ» (Hull 2004)
The second question is did the U.S. Supreme Court had the right to annul such a law in Texas and other forty-five states? The American Constitution in such issues gives, in fact, the main power to the states. (Hull 2004)
The Court, perhaps, has authority to do what it did, but I disagree with the decision made as it protects and values the health and well-being of the pregnant mother more than the life and development of the baby which she carries. In my opinion the Court’s judgment has no constitutional warrant for imposing such an order of priorities, as it is the matter and priority of people only. It is also important to take into account the consideration of controversial issue of abortions in the human rights context. On the one hand, the question arises to what extent the unborn child has a right to life. What human rights he already has and at what point he can be considered as a man.
Roe v. Wade is the historic U.S. Supreme Court decision on the legality of abortion. It is considered one of the most controversial and politically significant decisions in United States history.
Hull, N.E.H. (2004). The Abortion Rights Controversy in America: A Legal Reader. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.
“Rehnquist’s legacy”. The Economist (Jun 30th 2005). Washington DC. Web. 13 May 2011
“Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113”. Findlaw.com. (1972). Web. 13 May 2011
Rubin, Eva R. The Abortion Controversy: A Documentary History. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1994.