You Need To Know What Roe v. Wade Is About

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Roe v. Wade is a super important court case you should know. Source: Shutterstock

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!

 

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14 Comments

  1. avatar M D W says:

    Do you know that Norma McCorvey (Roe) did not even have an abortion? Do you know that she eventually converted to Catholicism and wrote a book called Won by Love? Do you know that the pro-abortion side purposefully inflated the numbers of women who were harmed by illegal abortion? It’s all true. I graduated in the year Roe was decided and now realize it was all based on a pack of LIES fed to us by the feminists. Many abortionists have become pro-life and tell of the pay-offs, illegal dealings and outright lies they told their patients. One famous one wrote a book, The Hand of God.
    Also, not many know that Doe v Bolton is the decision that made abortion legal throughout all 9 months of pregnancy! Women ARE still being harmed by abortion; women are dying; girls are being brought into planned parenthood and other clinics by their sexual abusers and the workers are covering for these criminals! Check out Live Action dot com for more on that. Young women – wake up! Abortion has many side effects.

  2. avatar Mikasa says:

    In my theory: If women and girls had the freed to abort than they would fuck anyone they want, as much as they want and not think about it. Than the abortion rate would go up. Just my opinion.

  3. avatar Alexey says:

    “1) why is it that when the underage daghuter of a white Republican governor gets pregnant it’s a “beautiful choice,” but when it’s a black, inner-city girl it’s a sign of irresponsible parenting?2) How’s that “abstinence-only” sexual non-education working for ya?”Point 1. Lets see. The parent of the teen and grandparent of the baby said that it was a beautiful choice. Don’t parents/grandparents of “black, inner city girls” say the same thing? Oh wait, I forgot. Instead, every single one of them say, a la Obama, “I don’t want my daghuter punished with a baby.” In my humble opinion, it is incredibly irresponsible for any 17 year old to have a baby, whether they are white or black. So what if white and black parents/grandparents view the matter as a “beautiful choice.”? I don’t fault those parents/grandparents for feeling that way once there is a pregnancy. Point 2. Since when has it ever been asserted that abstinence is 100% effective? How about contraceptive education? What, do you think that contraceptive education is 100% effective? How’s that contraceptive education working for ya? Finally, yes, yes, yes. Overturn the constitutional abortion known as Roe v. Wade. Clark doesn’t think a baby resulting from rape or incest has the same human rights as any other baby. Tell me Clark. If a baby born under such circumstances is carried to term and grows up, should that man or woman be afforded fewer rights?

  4. avatar Emma Strike says:

    I’m pro-choice. I understand the arguments made by pro-lifers, but I believe legalized abortion is ultimately the best for everyone. A lot of people argue that the child wouldn’t choose to be aborted. However, if the mother didn’t want the child, but is forced to give birth to it anyway, the baby wouldn’t have a happy childhood. Think about it: maybe the mother got raped, and doesn’t want to raise the offspring of a criminal. Maybe she didn’t want a child, because she isn’t financially stable. However, she would be forced to have this baby, and because she didn’t want it in the first place, she would do a pretty bad job of taking care of the kid. Then that kid grows up with a terrible childhood, and possibly becomes a criminal. In fact, the sudden drop in crime in New York City during the late 90′s, is linked to the legalization of abortion.

    True, adoption is always a choice. However there are already many more parentless children than there will ever be adoptive homes for them. In Russia, where abortion has been made legal and then illegal again several times, there are too many adoptable children for facilities to care for adequately, and those kids end up developing separation anxiety and other problems.

    To wrap up my thoughts, I understand that pro-lifers make some valid points. However, I believe it is better that a child never be born, than to be born into an abusive environment.

    • avatar Mikasa says:

      I’m pro-choice. I understand the arguments made by pro-lifers, but I believe legalized abortion is ultimately the best for everyone. A lot of people argue that the child wouldn’t choose to be aborted.
      However, if the mother didn’t want the child, but is forced to give birth to it anyway, the baby wouldn’t have a happy childhood. Think about it: maybe the mother got raped, and doesn’t want to raise the offspring of a criminal. Maybe she didn’t want a child, because she isn’t financially stable. However, she would be forced to have this baby, and because she didn’t want it in the first place, she would do a pretty bad job of taking care of the kid. Then that kid grows up with a terrible childhood, and possibly becomes a criminal. In fact, the sudden drop in crime in New York City during the late 90′s, is linked to the legalization of abortion.

      True, adoption is always a choice. However there are already many more parentless children than there will ever be adoptive homes for them. In Russia, where abortion has been made legal and then illegal again several times, there are too many adoptable children for facilities to care for adequately, and those kids end up developing separation anxiety and other problems.

      To wrap up my thoughts, I understand that pro-lifers make some valid points. However, I believe it is better that a child never be born, than to be born into an abusive environment.

      1. “However, if the mother didn’t want the child, but is forced to give birth to it anyway, the baby wouldn’t have a happy childhood.”
      Adoption? How about motherly instincts? Is it the babies fault though? Growing up in a unhappy family is a bad thing and nobody would want that, so it’s really up to the mother to give their kid a loving family. If she despises her child that she purposely give it a bad childhood than she’s a terrible heartless person and a horrible mom. And that’s the point! A fetus HAS NO RIGHT to speak for itself in the first place! That is the point!

      2.”Think about it: maybe the mother got raped, and doesn’t want to raise the offspring of a criminal.”
      Rape is bad and I understand the victims. However, only 1% of these women abort because of rape. Also, ADOPTION! And lastly, how is it the babies fault that it’s biological father was a horrible man and did this? If your dad killed someone, would it be fair if you were take to jail too just because your dad? Hell no! The same thing.

      3. “Maybe she didn’t want a child, because she isn’t financially stable.”
      -ADOPTION – there is is help for women who are not financially stable, organizations that are less known than abortion doctors.

      4. “However, she would be forced to have this baby, and because she didn’t want it in the first place, she would do a pretty bad job of taking care of the kid.”
      It’s her RESPONSIBILITY to be a GOOD MOTHER. It’s up to HER and how SHE takes it and treats the baby! It would NOT be ok to blame bad motherhood on a child!

      5. “Then that kid grows up with a terrible childhood, and possibly becomes a criminal. In fact, the sudden drop in crime in New York City during the late 90′s, is linked to the legalization of abortion.”
      Why do people think it’s an excuse when a woman is forced to have the child for her being a bad mother?? It’s NOT! IT’S HER FAULT!

      6. “In Russia, where abortion has been made legal and then illegal again several times, there are too many adoptable children for facilities to care for adequately, and those kids end up developing separation anxiety and other problems.”
      News flash! Russians drink a lot and have a high crime rate! Yes I watch the Russian news, in Russian! It might be a big country but it’s not that… Good thing at least their putting on adoption instead of doing the easy thing!

      7. “To wrap up my thoughts, I understand that pro-lifers make some valid points. However, I believe it is better that a child never be born, than to be born into an abusive environment”
      I understand what pro-choicers are saying and make few valid points. However, abortion is cruel and immoral, and not the only choice available.

  5. avatar Elizabeth says:

    I am pro-life. This is because of the simple fact that a baby is still a person in the mother’s womb, and everyone knows, with the exception of sociopaths, that killing innocent people is wrong, no matter what. Even in the case of rape, the unborn did not do anything to deserve death. However, I acknowledge that rape is a traumatic experience that alters the mind, and I will never call someone a horrible name because they had an abortion. I realize that many women end up regretting this decision, and I don’t want to torture them further.
    I am Catholic, but I have an atheist friend who is also pro-life. This is because we both realize that an unborn child is a person. I get really confused when the law changes its position on this fact. If someone shoots a pregnant woman, it’s a double homicide, but abortion isn’t murder? I can’t be the only one confused.

    • avatar Gulzhanakabaeva says:

      Anonymous,Well at least we both agree that it’s irresponsible for kids to be hvnaig babies. Common ground is a nice place to start when you can find it. I hope you will take my response in the serious way that it’s intended.As for abstinence education vs. contraceptive education, the evidence shows that contraceptive education is more effective in preventing unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections than abstinence education.You know that people are going to engage in sexual behavior, both kids and adults, and refusing to teach them about practical ways to prevent unwanted pregnancy or ways to prevent (or at least reduce the chances of) sexually transmitted infections in the name of ideology is short-sighted and damaging.You know, the Bush administration has advocated the teaching of creation along side the teaching of scientific theory of evolution in the name of making more information available to kids and families, yet it has restricted making information available regarding sex. Practically speaking, which is more important? Does it matter, on a practical, day-to-day basis whether we emerged from the primordial ooze or all descended from a pair of highly fertile nudists running around the garden? Or is it more important to teach people about their own bodies, their sexuality, and how to deal with the reality of sex? Which of these things has more immediate impact for a horny 16-year old?For many people in this country and around the world abstinence is impossible, and for many more it is a very, very difficult choice. To be snarky for a moment, it sounds like if anotherwatcher had his antifeminist way, no woman would have the choice to refuse her husband sex… shouldn’t she have the freedom to avoid an unwanted pregnancy?Abstinence-only education didn’t work in the Palin household. They have the resources to deal with their daughter’s pregnancy. Many, many other people don’t.Now as to abortion… it is a huuuge issue, and I’m being as honest and non-partisan as I can be. I think abortion is a bad thing. And awful choice. It’s one I will never have to make since I don’t have a uterus. I have two amazing beautiful boys, and I can’t imagine not hvnaig them. But the real question in abortion is this: is human life sacred?My answer is: I don’t know. And truthfully, I don’t see a whole lot of people who really know either. Many people who are pro-life/anti-abortion are also the same people who are pro-death penalty or for the war in Iraq. They say that human life is sacred, but favor killing people convicted of murder, etc, when we know that the criminal justice system is extremely flawed and that many people who end up on death row didn’t have a fair trial. If human life is sacred, truely sacred, then isn’t the risk of killing one innocent person too much for us to engage in any executions?(You’ll have to forgive me, Anonymous, as I don’t really know what your views are on capital punishment or the war in Iraq, so I’m just speaking in general terms about the usual Republican platform.)If human life is sacred, then isn’t starting a war based on false premises and deception of the American people a crime? Let’s assume that overthrowing Saddam is a lesser evil than letting him live… I’ll grant you that maybe it is… but isn’t going into Iraq with such poor planning and ineptness in the service of ideology a crime against humanity? I’m not trying to change the topic, but my point is that most people don’t really have a clear, consistent answer on the sacredness of life. If you really believe that life is sacred, then I don’t see why you aren’t enraged over America’s involvement in the stupid, pointless death of so many innocents in Iraq?Or over our failure to intervene in Darfur where hundreds of thousand of people are killed every year?Or why we accept the appalling infant mortality rate in this country?Anonymous, you asked me whether I thought a baby born as a result of rape or incest has the same human rights as any other. Yes, I believe they do or at least they should. And yet, I think it would be wrong to overturn Roe v. Wade. And yet, I am opposed to capital punishment (though truthfully, if I had more confidence in the justice system… if there were some way to magically determine for certain guilt or innocence, I might be for it). I’ll admit it… I’m a hypocrite on this much bigger issue. I think most of us are.When my wife was delivering our first child, I was faced with the possibility of hvnaig to choose her life over the baby’s. As it turns out, both ended up fine, but the possibility of hvnaig to make the choice right there in the operating suite was very real. In my mind, I chose to save my wife’s life. I chose the life of the woman I knew and loved over the baby that I didn’t know and loved only in the abstract.As a country, we make choices all the time about whose lives are more sacred than others and what lengths we will go to to preserve them. Abortion is only a fraction of the bigger picture and I think people who focus on abortion only miss a much larger issue. Again, I hope you will take my response as an honest, respectful attempt to engage in dialogue.

  6. avatar RavenBelle says:

    In Ireland, we’re having a similar debate – an asian woman died after being denied an abortion, because they are illegal here at any stage of pregnancy. Unfortunately, the more I hear, the more conflicted I am. I can see the pro-choice side and the pro-life side. Does anybody want to share their own opinions so I can be more informed?

    • avatar maya says:

      Yeah same I’m from Ireland! But I really don’t agree with abortion. I think it’s good in some ways for it to be illegal here, because it makes you really think about your decision, but if the country really wants it, perhaps the government can give a grant or something so you can go to England to get it… done. Yuck…

      • avatar maya says:

        Also Ireland is a Catholic country, whether it likes it these days or not. Our forefathers sacrificed their lives so Catholics were equal and respected. Even if you’re not Catholic you have to respect that. Read one history book about Ireland and you’ll see the horrors Catholics went through because they didn’t want to convert.

    • avatar Airen says:

      I believe in pro choice.
      I don’t see abortion as killing.
      Maybe the pro life side is right in that life starts as soon as an egg is fertilized.
      However, it is not fully develped in my opinion untill the baby is actually born.
      They also argue that adoption is always another option.
      I disagree. There are way more children without children waiting to be adopted than people willing to adopt. Also, while adoption may be another option, no one is going to carry the baby for you for ten month.
      This is just my opinion.
      I would also like to hear other people’s opinion as well !

      • avatar Mikasa says:

        9 mounts not 10. How is abortion not killing? Is a fetus less of a human being just cuz it doesn’t crawl, stand or walk? Adoption IS an opinion. Or there are organizations that help a woman when she can’t afford a child and they support her. When choice is hard, abortion is better than adoption? Disagree

    • avatar Marie says:

      What defines life? Is it something with a heartbeat? Death is defined as the moment the heart stops beating. An unborn child, or fetus is you want to be politically correct, has a heartbeat after eighteen days, I believe. Even before then, how does something magically ‘become alive’?

      If a woman gave birth and the doctor immediately killed the child, would it be considered ok? Heck no!! It’s WRONG to kill. How is abortion any different? I’m inclined to think its NOT. As a Christian, I personally believe gay marriage is wrong. But hey, who am I to judge others? We have laws to protect us from other people, not ourselves. As long as it doesn’t affect me or raise my taxes, I say knock yourself out! They say abortion is a woman’s choice. But what about the child? Blacks didn’t choose slavery. Jews didn’t choose genocide. And unborn children? They don’t choose abortion. Everything comes with consequences. Sometimes they are good, sometimes they are bad. That’s just something we deal with. Sex was meant to make babies. Plain and simple. Yeah, it feels good (lol virgin here, forgive me if I’m wrong) and with modern medicine we have ways to prevent it from leading to pregnancy. But the overall fact is: it can get you knocked up. Unless you are mature enough emotionally, financially, and physically to have a baby, stop and think before getting frisky. Because it comes with serious consequences. Or get foolproof protection.

      Lots of things are our decisions: sex, dating, smoking, drinking, what to do during the summer. But they all come with consequences. You can’t just get rid of your mom because you came home past your curfew an dont want to get in trouble.

      Abortion is something I feel VERY passionately about. Ask any expecting mother who planned the pregnancy and is happy about it whether their baby is alive and worth something. Who have us the choice to decide which pregnancies are good and which are bad?

      • avatar Mikasa says:

        Amen girl! You represent everything I believe in about abortion! The only reason I think women can abort is when their lives are in danger. And I’m also VERY passionate about this subject. I have to write a ten page paper about it for an important assignment. I did a lot of research and the things that I read are SHOCKING.
        -less than 1% of women abort because of rape, inest or when life is in danger
        -China has less girls because a lot of girls are aborted or left to die
        - it’s unfair to kill a mentally ill fetus
        I wish people could get EDUCATED before going on about woman’s rights! Abortion is morally wrong and if a girl is un responsible and it’s her fault she has TO TAKE REASONABILITY FOR HER ACTIONS!
        I’m a Christian but my religion has nothing to do with this and it’s my personal beliefs.

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