Roe v Wade

Updated: Nov 24, 2021

Roe v. Wade, legal case in which the U.S. Supreme Court on January 22, 1973, ruled (7–2) that unduly restrictive state regulation of abortion is unconstitutional. The Court held that a set of Texas statutes criminalizing abortion in most instances violated a woman’s constitutional right of privacy, which it found to be implicit in the liberty guarantee of the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment (“…nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law”).

The case began in 1970 when “Jane Roe”—a fictional name used to protect the identity of the plaintiff, Norma McCorvey—instituted federal action against Henry Wade, the district attorney of Dallas county, Texas, where Roe resided.

The Supreme Court disagreed with Roe’s assertion of an absolute right to terminate pregnancy in any way and at any time and attempted to balance a woman’s right of privacy with a state’s interest in regulating abortion. The Court then attempted to balance the state’s distinct compelling interests in the health of pregnant women and in the potential life of fetuses. It placed the point after which a state’s compelling interest in the pregnant woman’s health would allow it to regulate abortion “at approximately the end of the first trimester” of pregnancy. With regard to the fetus, the Court located that point at “capability of meaningful life outside the mother’s womb,” or viability.

Repeated challenges since 1973 narrowed the scope of Roe v. Wade but did not overturn it. In Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey (1992), the Supreme Court established that restrictions on abortion are unconstitutional if they place an “undue burden” on a woman seeking an abortion before the fetus is viable.

In Gonzales v. Carhart (2007), the Court upheld the federal Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act (2003), which prohibited a rarely used abortion procedure known as intact dilation and evacuation.

In Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt (2016), the Court invoked its decision in Casey to strike down two provisions of a Texas law requiring abortion clinics to meet the standards of ambulatory surgical centres and abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital.

Four years later, in June Medical Services L.L.C. v. Russo (2020), the Court invoked Whole Woman’s Health to declare an unconstitutional Louisiana statute that was nearly identical to Texas’s admitting-privileges law.

In September 2021, officials in Mississippi have asked the court’s newly expanded conservative majority to overrule Roe and to sustain a state law that largely bans abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

Mississippi’s arguments, amounted to “a request that the court scuttle a half-century of precedent and invite states to ban abortion entirely.”

The providers’ brief came less than two weeks after a closely divided Supreme Court refused to block a Texas law that banned most abortions after six weeks, one that had been drafted to evade challenges to it in federal court. But the ruling in the Texas case was procedural and provisional, while the Mississippi filing came in a case presenting a frontal challenge to Roe and the decisions that followed it.


Liptak, A. (2021, September 13). Supreme court urged to Reject mississippi's attack on Roe v. Wade. The New York Times. Retrieved September 16, 2021, from

Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. "Roe v. Wade". Encyclopedia Britannica, 29 Jun. 2020, Accessed 16 September 2021.

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