Roe v. Wade: What does it say, what did it accomplish and who were the people behind the landmark U.S. court decision?

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IN 1973 the Supreme Court ruled to legalise abortion across the US in a landmark case called Roe v. Wade.

The ruling has been threatened by near-total bans on abortion that have been passed in Alabama and Missouri this week. So what is Roe v. Wade, what does it say and what did it accomplish?

Roe v. Wade affirmed that access to a safe and legal abortion is a constitutional right
Getty Images – Getty

Roe v. Wade affirmed that access to a safe and legal abortion is a constitutional right[/caption]

What does Roe v. Wade say?

Roe v. Wade affirmed that access to a safe and legal abortion is a constitutional right in what became the 14th amendment.

The case was heard to decide if Texas’s ban on abortions, which were completely outlawed except when a woman’s life was in danger, was constitutional.

The Supreme Court voted 7-2 in favour of the right to an abortion.

It said women had a right to privacy, which meant it was up to her to decide whether to continue her pregnancy.

It also divided a pregnancy into three trimesters, declaring that the first three months are solely at the discretion of the woman.

In the second trimester the states can regulate abortions in the interests of the woman’s health.

In the last three months states can prohibit abortions in the interest of the fetus, provided the pregnancy will not bring harm to the pregnant woman.

Who was behind Roe v. Wade?

Justice Blackmun wrote the majority opinion in the case after the decision had been made.

He said: “We forthwith acknowledge our awareness of the sensitive and emotional nature of the abortion controversy, of the vigorous opposing views, even among physicians, and of the deep and seemingly absolute convictions that the subject inspires.”

Also voting in support of Roe was Justices Burger, Douglas, Brennan, Stewart, Marshall and Powell.

What did Roe v. Wade accomplish?

After the decision 46 states needed to change their abortion laws to comply with the ruling.

Abortion has proved to be one of the most divisive moral issues in recent years, with ‘pro-life’ groups comparing the procedure to murder.

On the flip side, ‘pro-choice’ groups argue that abortion should be safe and legal for anyone who needs one.

The number of abortions performed each year has been falling.

For women ages 15 to 44, the abortion rate (the number of abortions per 1,000 women) dropped 26 per cent between 2006 and 2015, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In 2006, US medical professionals reported performing 842,855 abortions but by 2015, that number dropped to 638,169.

Pro-life activists are against abortion
Getty Images – Getty

Pro-life activists are against abortion[/caption]

Does Roe v. Wade still stand?

There have been many challenges to Roe v. Wade since it was established.

In 2007 the Supreme Court upheld a federal ban on late-term abortions, so-called partial-birth abortions.

This was the first time since Roe that the Court had upheld a ban on abortion.

In 2016 it ruled that Texas cannot place restrictions that create an undue burden for women seeking an abortion.

Have Alabama and Missouri banned abortion?

In May 2019 Alabama lawmakers passed a near-total ban on abortions – including in cases of rape and incest.

The new law will make it a felony for a doctor to perform an abortion at any stage of pregnancy – punishable by up to 99 years in jail.

The only exception would be when the woman’s health is at serious risk.

The historic legislation is designed to go against the US Supreme Court’s landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.

This means it will likely be challenged in the courts – but if backed by the current conservative-led US Supreme court, could see abortions banned across America.

Senators in the Republican-led chamber rejected an attempt to add an exception for rape and incest – even of underage children – at the vote in Montgomery, Alabama.


Just hours later Missouri voted to ban nearly all abortions.

The state’s Republican-led Senate has now passed a bill to ban abortions at eight weeks of pregnancy with doctors facing up to 15 years in prison for carrying them out.

The legislation only includes an exception for medical emergencies but not rape or incest.

Women who receive abortions at eight weeks or later into a pregnancy wouldn’t be prosecuted.

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