On this day 49 years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a landmark decision on abortion rights in the United States. The justices ruled that pregnant women have the right to decide whether to continue or terminate their pregnancy.
At the time of the lawsuit, the state of Texas had a law that allowed abortions only if the health or life of the expectant mother was at risk. When a 22-year-old woman who was already a single mother of two became pregnant again and sought an abortion, she was not allowed to do so. The woman’s attorneys, Linda Coffee and Sarah Weddington, saw this as a violation of the Constitution and sued. The name “Roe vs. Wade” was created from the plaintiff’s anonymous name “Jane Roe” and the Texas District Attorney at the time, Henry Wade, who was the defendant as a matter of form.
The first suit in district court was unsuccessful; although the court recognized that the law violated the Constitution, it refused to strike it down. The plaintiffs therefore appealed and the case was accepted by the Supreme Court in 1971 and then decided on January 22, 1973.
The landmark decision there recognized abortions as a fundamental right. However, various reasons must be weighed in the decision, such as the health of the woman giving birth and the protection of the expectant life. States cannot ban abortions for the first trimester of pregnancy; to this day, there are states that allow abortions even until shortly before birth.
Even today, the ruling is still controversial, for example, on May 17, 2021, the governor of Texas signed a law that almost completely bans abortions after the sixth week of pregnancy. Pregnancies resulting from rape or incest would also fall under the ban. The U.S. government filed suit against the law on Sept. 9, demanding that the law be immediately invalidated for being unconstitutional.