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.
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.
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 abortion was within the scope of the personal liberty guaranteed by the Due Process Clause. Although this right is not absolute and could be regulated by narrowly drawn legislation aimed at vindicating legitimate, compelling state interests in the mother’s health and safety and the potentiality of human life. The former became compelling, and was thus grounds for regulation after the first trimester of pregnancy, beyond which the state could regulate abortion to preserve and protect maternal health. The latter became compelling at viability, upon which a state could proscribe abortion except to preserve the mother’s life or health. Furthermore, the Court noted that the Texas statutes made no distinction between abortions performed early in pregnancy and those performed later, and it limited the legal justification for the procedure to a single reason –saving the mother’s life — so it could not survive the constitutional attack.
- Case Brief: 1973
- Appellant: Jane Roe
- Appellee: Henry Wade
- Decided by: Burger Court
Citation: 410 US 113 (1973)
Argued: Dec 13, 1971
ReArgued: Oct 11, 1972
Decided: Jan 22, 1973