An expired draft majority opinion shows that the Supreme Court is preparing to overturn Rowe v. Wade, the remarkable 1973 ruling that established a woman’s constitutional right to abortion.

The current case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, refers to the Mississippi Act of 2018, which prohibits abortion after 15 weeks, except in cases of emergency medical care or severe fetal abnormalities.

Read: What you need to know about the case that may overturn Rowe v. Wade

An official decision is not expected until June or July, but in the draft, announced for the first time by PoliticoAssociate Judge Samuel Alito wrote that contrary to the previous court’s opinion, the Constitution does not implicitly protect abortion.

Rowe, he said, “was grossly mistaken from the beginning.”

But what did the Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade? What constitutional principles did the judges refer to in determining that a woman has the right to terminate her pregnancy? And what was the state of reproductive rights before Roe was decided?

Here’s what you need to know.

What is Rowe against Wade?

Rowe v. Wade is a 1973 Supreme Court ruling that the woman has a constitutional right to abortion.

In 1969, lawyers for a pregnant woman in Dallas filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, challenging a state law banning abortion except when the mother’s life was at risk.

The court agreed, but Texas appealed directly to the Supreme Court.

How did the Supreme Court rule in Rowe v. Wade?

IN opinion of the majority of 7-2Associate Judge Harry Blackman upheld the lower court’s decision that the woman’s denial of the right to choose whether to be pregnant violates the due process clause of the 14th Amendment, which he writes protects “the right to privacy, including the qualified right to the woman to terminate her pregnancy. ”

The decision to have an abortion in the first trimester, Blackman writes, is between a woman and her doctor. The state can then “regulate and even ban abortions, except when necessary … to save the life or health of the mother.”

Who were Rowe and Wade?

“Jane Rowe” ​​was the pseudonym used by plaintiff Norma McCorvy, who revealed her identity four days after the verdict was announced.

McCorvy, 22, was a single, unemployed mother of three living in Texas when she tried to terminate her pregnancy in 1969.

Plaintiff Roe v. Wade Norma McCorvy revealed her identity shortly after the ruling was announced.


Although she won her case, she never had an abortion: by the time the Supreme Court ruled four years later, McCorvy had long since given birth to a girl she had given up for adoption.

Henry Wade was the District Attorney in Dallas County, Texas, in charge of enforcing the Texas Abortion Act.

Was abortion illegal in the United States before 1973?

Before the 1850s, most American states applied British common law, which allowed abortion before. “acceleration“when a pregnant woman can first feel the movements of the fetus, at about 15 to 20 weeks.

18th century illustration of two women and a doctor, with a written commentary on abortion

18th century illustration of a doctor who had an abortion.

Rishgitz / Stringer

Until 1900, however, most states classified abortion as a crime, except in limited circumstances — usually if the mother’s life was at stake or in the case of rape or incest.

In 1973, when Rowe was in dispute, only four states “Alaska, Hawaii, New York, and Washington have completely lifted their abortion bans.” Another 13 have relaxed restrictions, according to Planned parenting. The Rowe v. Wade ruling effectively lifted abortion bans in 30 states.

What other Supreme Court cases have helped shape the current abortion policy?

Rowe v. Wade was not the only case affecting a woman’s right to choose. Several cases before and after helped to establish the current landscape.

United States v. Vuich, 1971
Two years before Rowe, the Supreme Court ruled that the District of Columbia law banning abortion was not “unconstitutionally unclear” when it made an exception to maternal health.

Although Vuitch upheld the county’s ban, he found that the Supreme Court had jurisdiction to rule on state abortion regulations.

Planned Parenthood v. Danforth, 1976
Following Rowe, the Supreme Court issued several opinions stressing the woman’s right to choose to terminate her pregnancy. With this decision, the judges abolished the status of Missouri, which requires a married woman to obtain her husband’s consent before having an abortion.

Harris vs. McRae, 1980
The Supreme Court upheld Hyde’s amendment, a congressional measure banning the use of federal funds, namely Medicaid, to pay for abortion.

Activists against abortion and abortion rights protested in 1992

Protesters on both sides of the abortion issue oppose Planned Parenthood v. Casey in 1992.

Diana Walker / Getty Images

In the opinion of the majorityAssociate Judge Potter Stewart writes that “it does not follow that a woman’s freedom of choice carries with it a constitutional right to financial resources in order to benefit from the full range of protected elections.”

City of Akron v. Akron Center for Reproductive Health, 1983
This was one of several cases in the 1980s that rejected informed consent provisions requiring patients to be provided with information on medical risks and alternatives to abortion and to be subject to a 24-hour waiting period.

Planned Parenthood in Southeast Pennsylvania v. Casey, 1992
In that divisive ruling, the court ruled that state law could not impose an “unnecessary burden” on a woman’s right to have an abortion, a less stringent standard than the one set by Rowe v. Wade. And the responsibility for proving an ordinance falls exclusively on the woman, not the government.

Casey included a challenge to a broad Pennsylvania law that included a 24-hour waiting period and an informed consent provision – as well as requiring a minor to obtain permission from at least one parent before having an abortion and for the wife to notify her husband.

All provisions of the Pennsylvania Abortion Act, with the exception of notifying spouses, have been confirmed.

“The result,” he wrote Pew Research Center“is that the state’s interest in and regulation of potential life can now extend throughout a woman’s pregnancy.”

What is the current Supreme Court case that can overturn Rowe?

Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization considers a Mississippi law banning abortions after the first 15 weeks of pregnancy, except in cases of emergency medical care or severe fetal abnormalities.

Jackson’s Women’s Health Organization challenged the measure shortly after it was adopted in 2018, and in November of that year, the U.S. District Court for the Southern Mississippi County ruled in favor of the clinic.

In December 2019, the Fifth District unanimously upheld the decision of the District Court.

Security fence around the Supreme Court building

A security fence around the Supreme Court building on May 5, days after the expiration of a draft opinion repealing Rowe v. Wade.

Brian Dozier / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Mississippi appealed the decision to the Supreme Court in October 2021, and judges heard oral arguments last December. The court is expected to rule by the end of this hearing in June.

If Alito’s draft opinion is indicative of the court’s final decision, it will effectively destroy Roe, which protects a woman’s right to an abortion for the first 24 weeks.

In this scenario, regulation is likely to return to states, 26 of which have laws banning or severely restricting abortion.

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended for health or medical advice. Always consult a doctor or other qualified medical professional about any questions you may have about your medical condition or health goals.

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