Today marks the 40th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court case, Roe v. Wade. This is a huge case that’s super important for everyone, especially women. So obviously, I was really surprised by new data that shows that many people don’t totally know what the case is about.
Recent data from the Pew Research Center showed that less than half of Americans in the 18-29 age group knew what the Roe v. Wade case was about. Some people just flat-out said they didn’t know, while others mistakenly thought it had to do with other issues.
Regardless of what your personal politics are, you need to know this case. It is one of the most well-known court cases in American history and there are constantly references to it in today’s news media or in political discussions. The entire decision is available online if you really want to read it. But be warned: it’s pretty long and all of the legal talk can get kind of confusing and boring. It’s more important to become familiar with the basics of the case, and so I’m here to give you a briefing.
It began as a case out of Texas, where “Jane Roe” was a pseudonym for the plaintiff, Norma McCorvey. The case was filed because of the belief that the law in Texas regarding abortion (basically, abortion was illegal, with limited exceptions) was unconstitutional. The “Wade” of the case was the district attorney, Henry B. Wade, and the case ended up going all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. On January 22, 1973 the decision on Roe v. Wade was made – the nine U.S. Supreme Court Justices had voted, and they ruled 7-2 in favor of Roe.
Why did they make that decision? Well, a person’s right to privacy was considered to be protected by the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution… so why shouldn’t that include the right to choose an abortion? Roe v. Wade basically decided that a person’s right to privacy should include the right to choose an abortion. But that’s not all – the Fourteenth Amendment says that the state can’t do things that violate an individual’s “life, liberty or property, without due process of law.” That “due process” line was very important in Roe v. Wade. Because of that line, it was decided that the government couldn’t just ban abortions without considering some other factors.
As a result of the Roe v. Wade ruling, first trimester abortions were made legal in the entire country. After the first trimester though, the ruling allowed for some interpretation by the state regarding abortion, including considering “the potentiality of human life,” so long as the pregnant woman’s health remained protected.
For the anniversary today, CNN put together a comprehensive timeline about the history of abortion laws in the United States and looks at both what sorts of laws or court cases happened both prior to and after Roe v. Wade. It’s been such an important topic in American history, and while I was familiar with Roe v. Wade, I learned a whole lot reading through it.
There’s no doubt about it that abortion is something that many people feel very divided and passionately about, but if you’re not informed, you’re not going to be fully part of the discussion no matter what you believe. Forming your own political opinions is great – and one of the benefits of living somewhere where there is freedom of speech and freedom of expression – but there is responsibility that comes with that to seek out information. If you hear people discussing something you don’t understand, ask questions and investigate it!
Did you know what Roe v. Wade is about? Do you feel like you are well-informed about American history? How do you stay informed about it? Tell us in the comments!