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Roe v. Wade

On January 22, 1973, the United States Supreme Court voted 7-2 to strike down a Texas law prohibiting abortion, citing that it violated a woman's right to privacy. This landmark decision is known as Roe v. Wade.

What the Ruling Found

  • States are forbidden to interfere with a woman's access to abortion during the 1st trimester of pregnancy.
  • States can only regulate 2nd trimester abortions to protect a woman's health.
  • States can ban 3rd trimester abortions except if a woman's life is in jeopardy.
  • A fetus is not protected as a "person" under the 14th amendment.
  • A woman's right to choose is a fundamental right and has the highest level of Constitutional protection.

Life Before Roe v. Wade
Before Roe, 2/3 of states permitted abortions only when the woman's life was threatened. The majority of other states had only slightly more liberal abortion laws.

As a result:
1.2 million women a year had illegal, often dangerous abortions.
5,000 women died annually from complications from illegal abortions.

When faced with an unwanted pregnancy, women will seek an abortion regardless of the legality of the procedure. Many are forced to undergo abortions performed by inexperienced providers in unsanitary conditions, and face complications that pose major risks to their lives and health. Due to the stigma associated with an illegal abortion and disapproval from hospital providers, many women do not seek medical care for these complications. This has led to:

  • Sepsis, hemorrhage, and uterine perforation, all of which can be fatal when left untreated
  • Acute renal failure, which contributes to abortion deaths as a secondary complication
  • Chronic pelvic pain, pelvic inflammatory disease, as well as a high risk of ectopic pregnancy, premature delivery, and future spontaneous abortions
  • Reproductive tract infections, of which 20-40% lead to pelvic inflammatory disease and consequent infertility.

The Impact of the Decision
After Roe, women could decide when and if they were prepared to be mothers. No longer restricted by unwanted, poorly timed pregnancies, women had increased opportunities for advancement in economic, political, and social spheres.

However, an increasingly conservative Supreme Court has allowed numerous restrictions on a woman's right to choose in recent years, including waiting periods, biased counseling, parental consent laws, and a ban on public funding for low income women's abortions.

The right to choose is currently in jeopardy. President Bush appointed two opponents of the right to choose to the Supreme Court creating an anti-choice majority in the Court. This anti-choice majority continues to presists even in the face of President Obama's pro-choice addition to the Court.

What if Roe Fell?
In 2004, the Center for Reproductive Rights found that as many as 30 states were poised to criminalize abortion soon after a Roe reversal. Wisconsin is one of these states. It has a pre-Roe abortion ban dating back to the 1850s, and in the event that Roe v. Wade is overturned, abortion will become illegal in the state of Wisconsin, even in cases of rape, incest,or pregnancies that put a woman's health at risk.
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