On Friday, June 24, the Supreme Court ended constitutional protections for abortion that had stood in America for nearly a half-century. It comes as no surprise since there was a breach of Supreme Court confidentiality and secrecy when Politico obtained a draft of a majority opinion on May 2.
The decision by the court’s conservative majority overturned the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling and is expected to lead to abortion bans in roughly half the states.
A brief timeline
June 1970: A Texas district court ruled that the state’s abortion ban was illegal because it violated a constitutional right to privacy.Roe is actually Norma McCorvey, who went to court against Henry Wade, the district attorney of Dallas County. Wade declared he’d continue to prosecute doctors who performed abortions. The case eventually was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. McCorvey gave birth and put the child up for adoption.
1971: The Supreme Court agrees to hear the case filed by Roe against Wade. Wade was ignoring the legal ruling and both sides appealed.
Dec. 13, 1971: The case is argued before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Oct. 11, 1972: The case is reargued before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Jan. 22, 1973: The U.S. Supreme Court, in a 7-2 decision, affirms the legality of a woman’s right to have an abortion under the 14th Amendment to the Constitution.
The 1973 decision by the court
The court divided pregnancy into three trimesters and declared that the choice to end a pregnancy in the first trimester was solely up to the woman. In the second trimester, the government could regulate abortion, although not ban it, in order to protect the mother’s health.
In the third trimester, the state could prohibit abortion to protect a fetus that could survive on its own outside the womb, except when a woman’s health was in danger.
What’s the 14th Amendment
The 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified in 1868 during the Reconstruction era to abolish slavery and establish civil and legal rights for Black Americans. The third clause, “nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty or property, without due process of law,” expanded the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment to apply to the states as well as the federal government.
Over time, the Supreme Court has interpreted this clause to guarantee a wide array of rights against infringement by the states, as well as the right to privacy and other fundamental rights not mentioned elsewhere in the Constitution.
In 1997, McCorvey started Roe No More, an anti-abortion outreach organization that was dissolved in 2008. She was received into the Catholic Church in 1998.
In 2003, McCorvey filed a motion with the federal district court in Dallas to have the case overturned and asked the court to consider new evidence that abortion hurts women. The motion is dismissed in 2004.
Shortly before her death on Feb. 18, 2017, McCorvey was interviewed for the documentary “AKA Jane Roe,” which was released in 2020. McCorvey told the film’s director that she hadn’t changed her mind about abortion but became an anti-abortion activist because she was being paid.
There are conflicting views of how she felt about the issue from many sources.
The leaked documents were from the case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization about the constitutionality of a 2018 Mississippi state law that bans most abortion procedures after the first 15 weeks of pregnancy. Lower courts have prevented enforcement of the law with preliminary injunctions.
Oral arguments before the Supreme Court were held in December 2021.
Sources: The Associated Press, History.com, The Pew Research Center, Guttmacher.org, Focus on the Family