Roe v. Wade | Study Guide

United States Supreme Court

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United States Supreme Court

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Law, U.S. Supreme Court Case

At a Glance

  • In 1971 when Roe v. Wade came before the U.S. Supreme Court, most states followed old laws restricting access to and in many cases criminalizing abortion. Norma McCorvey, using the pseudonym Jane Roe, challenged Texas laws, which prohibited legal abortions except to save a woman's life. She sought the right to have an abortion legally even though her life was not at risk from her pregnancy and, therefore, her case did not fall under the category for which the state would allow a legal abortion.
  • When the district court denied that right, she brought her case to the Supreme Court, which, in 1973, ruled 7–2 in her favor.
  • The court considered the 9th Amendment, inferring the existence of rights other than those specified in the Constitution, but based its decision primarily on the 14th Amendment's due process clause, preventing governments from depriving citizens of "life, liberty, or property without due process of law." Privacy is considered a liberty.
  • Effectively legalizing abortion under certain circumstances, the verdict divided the country. Many were outraged and worked to overturn the ruling, arguing it violated an unborn child's right to live. Opposition continues, and some states have tightened their abortion laws as a result.
  • Roe v. Wade is considered a landmark case defending a woman's right to make personal medical choices.


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