Roe v Wade Essay

This essay has a total of 2015 words and 9 pages.

Roe v Wade



Roe vs. Wade: The Decision and its Impact on American Society

“The Court today is correct in holding that the right asserted by Jane Roe is embraced
within the personal liberty protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth
Amendment. It is evident that the Texas abortion statute infringes that right directly.
Indeed, it is difficult to imagine a more complete abridgment of a constitutional freedom
than that worked by the inflexible criminal statute now in force in Texas. The question
then becomes whether the state interests advanced to justify this abridgment can survive
the ‘particularly careful scrutiny’ that the Fourteenth Amendment here requires. The
asserted state interests are protection of the health and safety of the pregnant woman,
and protection of the potential future human life within her. But such legislation is not
before us, and I think the Court today has thoroughly demonstrated that these state
interests cannot constitutionally support the broad abridgment of personal liberty worked
by the existing Texas law. Accordingly, I join the Court's opinion holding that that law
is invalid under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment” (Craig and O’Brien
17).

On January twenty-second, 1973 Justice Harry Blackmun delivered the opinion of the Supreme
Court regarding the Roe vs. Wade case. A pregnant single woman, “Jane Roe,” brought a
class action lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the Texas criminal abortion
laws, which proscribed procuring or attempting an abortion except on medical advice for
the purpose of saving the mother's life. Norma McCorvey, the real name of the plaintiff,
was young and divorced at the time, searching for a solution to her unplanned pregnancy.
“No legitimate doctor in Texas would touch me,” stated McCorvey. “There I was – pregnant,
unmarried, unemployed, alone and stuck” (Craig and O’Brien 5). The plaintiff's assertion
was that prohibiting abortion at any time before birth violated a woman's constitutional
right to privacy. The Supreme Court later agreed with Mrs. McCorvey, justifying the
legality of abortion under the fourteenth amendment. A person’s right to privacy now
extended to choosing an abortion. Although the Court avoided the issue of when life
actually begins, abortion became legal under this landmark Supreme Court decision. The
debate over the legality of abortion had taken place in America for several decades, and
the final decision rendered by Roe vs. Wade resonated among all Americans, influencing
society to date.

Until the last third of the nineteenth century, when it was criminalized state by state
across the land, abortion was legal before “quickening,” which is approximately the fourth
month of pregnancy. Colonial home medical guides gave recipes for instigating abortions
with herbs that could be grown in one's garden or easily found in the woods. By the
mid-eighteenth century, commercial preparations were widely available. Unfortunately,
these drugs were often fatal. The first statutes regulating abortion, passed in the 1820s
and 1830s, were actually poison-control laws: the sale of commercial abortifacients was
banned, but abortion itself was not outlawed. Despite these new laws, the abortion
business was booming by the 1840’s, including the sale of illegal drugs, which were widely
advertised in the popular press.

However, this trend would soon change. Following the 1840’s, abortion would soon be under
attack, and a string of anti-abortion laws would be passed until the twentieth century.
The leading force behind the criminalization of abortion was physicians and the American
Medical Association. The AMA was founded in 1847, and the illegalization of abortion was
one of its highest priorities. To the growing movement, “abortion was both an immoral act
and a medically dangerous one, given the incompetence of many of the practitioners then”
(Joffe 28). However, the opposition went beyond these factors. To many people during the
end of the nineteenth century, abortion represented a threat to male authority and the
traditional role of a woman in the time period. Abortion was a symbol of unbridled female
sexuality, expressing selfish and self-indulgent qualities. The AMA’s Committee on
Criminal Abortion expressed this view blatantly in 1871. “She yields to the pleasures –
but shrinks from the pains and responsibilities of maternity; and, destitute of all
delicacy and refinement, resigns herself, body and soul, into the hands of unscrupulous
and wicked men” (Joffe 29). As the twentieth century dawned, over forty states had
completely outlawed abortion unless the mother’s life was in direct harm, and many others
had placed strict regulations. However despite these emerging laws, people still performed
abortions illegally for decades until the Roe vs. Wade decision. A study performed by
Frederick Taussig in 1936 recorded an estimated half million illegal abortions. In 1953,
ninety percent of all premarital pregnancies were aborted illegally, and twenty percent of
married couples performed abortions. Illegal abortions rose to over a million a year until
Roe vs. Wade. Although the law dictated the morality of abortion, abortion was still a
considerable aspect of society.

The Roe vs. Wade decision was first argued in December 1971, and had been before the
Supreme Court for over a year. Although this decision would later be intensely analyzed
and debated, little attention was brought upon the case at the time. Chief Justice Burger
opened the Court’s oral arguments, and each side had only thirty minutes to present their
case and answer questions. Sarah Weddington, the head lawyer defending Norma McCorvey
argued that abortion needed to be legalized beyond in the case where a woman’s life is
threatened. The physiological and psychological harms also warranted an abortion. However,
since the Supreme Court has no jurisdiction over public policy, Weddington argued that
current abortion laws violated the fourteenth amendment. The fourteenth amendment
guarantees the right to liberty without due process of law, and the decision contended
this right was extended to a woman’s right to choose to be pregnant. In her closing
argument, Weddington stated if “liberty is meaningful… that liberty to these women would
mean liberty from being forced to continue the unwanted pregnancy” (Craig and O’Brien 17).

Jay Floyd, the assistant attorney general of Texas, next presented his case against the
legalization of abortion. Weddington had argued that many women had no other choice
besides abortion because of their socioeconomic status. However, Floyd contended that
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