Roe v. Wade

LOCATION: US District Court for the Northern District of Texas

DOCKET NO.: 70-18
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1972-1975)

CITATION: 410 US 113 (1973)
ARGUED: Dec 13, 1971
REARGUED: Oct 11, 1972
DECIDED: Jan 22, 1973

Jay Floyd - Argued the cause for the appellee
Robert C. Flowers - Rergued the cause for the appellee
Sarah R. Weddington - Argued the cause for the appellants

Facts of the case

Roe, a Texas resident, sought to terminate her pregnancy by abortion. Texas law prohibited abortions except to save the pregnant woman's life. After granting certiorari, the Court heard arguments twice. The first time, Roe's attorney -- Sarah Weddington -- could not locate the constitutional hook of her argument for Justice Potter Stewart. Her opponent -- Jay Floyd -- misfired from the start. Weddington sharpened her constitutional argument in the second round. Her new opponent -- Robert Flowers -- came under strong questioning from Justices Potter Stewart and Thurgood Marshall.


Does the Constitution embrace a woman's right to terminate her pregnancy by abortion?

Media for Roe v. Wade

Audio Transcription for Oral Reargument - October 11, 1972 in Roe v. Wade

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 13, 1971 in Roe v. Wade

Warren E. Burger:

We will hear arguments in number 18 Roe against Wade.

Mrs. Weddington you may proceed whenever you are ready.

Sarah R. Weddington:

Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the court.

The instant case is a direct appeal from a decision of the United State District Court for the Northern District of Texas.

The court declared the Texas abortion law to be unconstitutional for two reasons: First, that the law was impermissibly vague, and, second, that it violated a woman’s right to continue or terminate a pregnancy.

Although the court granted declaratory relief, the court denied appellant’s request for injunctive relief.

The Texas law in question permits abortions to be performed only in instances where it is for the purpose of saving the life of the woman.

The case originated with the filing of two separate complaints, the first being filed on behalf of Jane Roe, an unmarried pregnant girl, and the second being filed on behalf of Jane and Mary Doe, a married couple.

Jane Roe, the pregnant woman, had gone to several Dallas physicians seeking an abortion, but had been refused care because of the Texas law.

She filed suit on behalf of herself, and all those women who have in the past at that present time or in the future would seek termination of a pregnancy.

In her affidavit she did state some of the reasons that she desired an abortion at the time she sought one.

But, contrary to the contentions of appellee, she continued to desire the abortion.

And it was not only at the time she sought the abortion that her desire was to terminate the pregnancy.

Warren E. Burger:

When this case was in the District Court, the case of Vuitch against The United States had not been decided here?

Sarah R. Weddington:

That is correct.

Warren E. Burger:

Now, do you think that has disposed of some of the questions raised now?

Sarah R. Weddington:

Your Honor, I do not.

In the Vuitch decision this Court was working with a statute which provided that an abortion could be performed for reasons of health or life.

Our Texas statute provides an abortion only where it is for the purpose of saving the life of the woman.

Since the Vuitch decision was rendered, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals -- which is our highest court of criminal jurisdiction -- has held that the Texas law is not vague, citing the Vuitch decision, but saying that the Texas law is more definite than the D.C. law.

So, obviously the Court of Criminal Appeals doesn't feel that the two are the same.

And in the Vuitch decision, the Justices of this Court emphasized continuously that a doctor, as a matter of routine, works with the problem of what is best for the health of his patients.

We submit that a doctor is not used to being restricted to acting only when it's for the purpose of saving the life of the woman, and that health is a continuum which runs into life.

And a doctor in our State does not know whether he can perform an abortion only when death is imminent or when the woman's life would be shortened.

He does not know if the death must be certain, or if it could be an increase in probability of her death.

So here, in the District, doctors are able to exercise their normal matter of judgment, whether or not the health of the woman, mental or physical will be affected.

But, in Texas, we tell the doctor that unless he can decide whether it's necessary for the purpose of saving her life, and for no other reason, that he is subject to criminal sanctions.

I think it's important to note the range of problems that could be presented to a doctor.

The court, for example, cited the instance of suicide, if a woman comes in alleging that she will commit suicide.

Is it then necessary for him to do or can he do an abortion for the purpose of saving her life?