Facts of the case
In 1970, Jane Roe (a fictional name used in court documents to protect the plaintiff’s identity) filed a lawsuit against Henry Wade, the district attorney of Dallas County, Texas, where she resided, challenging a Texas law making abortion illegal except by a doctor’s orders to save a woman’s life. In her lawsuit, Roe alleged that the state laws were unconstitutionally vague and abridged her right of personal privacy, protected by the First, Fourth, Fifth, Ninth, and Fourteenth Amendments.
Why is the case important?
Appellant Jane Roe, a pregnant mother who wished to obtain an abortion, sued on behalf of all woman similarly situated in an effort to prevent the enforcement of Texas statutes criminalizing all abortions except those performed to save the life of the mother.
Do the Texas statutes improperly invade a right possessed by the appellant to terminate her pregnancy embodied in the concept of personal liberty contained in the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause, in the personal marital, familial, and sexual privacy protected by the Bill of Rights or its penumbras, or among the rights reserved to the people by the Ninth Amendment?
The right to personal privacy includes the abortion decision, but the right is not unqualified and must be considered against important state interests in regulation.
The abortion laws in effect in the majority of the States are of relatively recent vintage, deriving from statutory changes generally enacted in the latter half of the 19th century. At common law abortion performed before quickening (the first recognizable movement of the fetus in utero) was not an indictable offense, and it is doubtful that abortion was ever a firmly established common law crime even when it destroyed a quick fetus.
The court held that the right to privacy encompasses a woman’s decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy, but a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy is not absolute, and may be limited by the state’s legitimate interests in safeguarding the woman’s health, in maintaining proper medical standards, and in protecting potential human life. The court set forth the following: prior to the end of the first trimester of pregnancy, the state may not interfere with or regulate an attending physician’s decision, reached in consultation with his patient, that the patient’s pregnancy should be terminated from and after the end of the first trimester, and until the point in time when the fetus becomes viable, the state may regulate the abortion procedure only to the extent that such regulation relates to the preservation and protection of maternal health from and after the point in time when the fetus becomes viable, the state may prohibit abortions altogether, except those necessary to preserve the life or health of the mother, and the state may proscribe the performance of all abortions except those performed by physicians currently licensed by the state.
- Advocates: Sarah R. Weddington Argued the cause for the appellants Jay Floyd Argued the cause for the appellee Robert C. Flowers Re-argued the cause for the appellee
- Appellant: Jane Roe
- Appellee: Henry Wade
- DECIDED BY:Burger Court
- Location: US District Court for the Northern District of Texas
|Citation:||410 US 113 (1973)|
|Argued:||Dec 13, 1971|
|ReArgued:||Oct 11, 1972|
|Decided:||Jan 22, 1973|