Roe v. Wade

Following is the case brief for Roe v. Wade, Supreme Court of the United States, (1973)

Case Summary of Roe v. Wade:

  • Roe brought suit against Wade, a state official, claiming a Texas law restricting her right to an abortion was unconstitutional
  • The court discussed the different types of interests a state may have at different stages during the pregnancy, specifically the interests in protecting the life of the mother and the unborn fetus.
  • The United States Supreme Court held, that the law was unconstitutional because a woman has a right to an abortion protected under the fundamental right to privacy.

Case Brief

Statement of the Facts:

Texas Resident, Jane Roe, wanted to terminate her pregnancy. However, Article 1196 of the Texas Penal Code limited abortions to circumstances when “procured or attempted by medical advice for the purposes of saving the life of the mother.”  Claiming the statute unconstitutionally restricted her right to an abortion, Roe sued Texas official Wade in court.

Procedural History:

The Federal District Court issued declaratory relief and held that the statute was both vague and overbroad. When Roe was not granted Injunctive relief, she appealed to the United States Supreme Court.

Issue and Holding:

Is a woman’s right to have an abortion protected under the constitutional right to privacy? Yes.

Judgment:

Justice Blackmun delivered the opinion that the Texas law was unconstitutional and a woman’s right to an abortion is protected under the constitutional right to privacy.

Reasoning:

Criminal abortion laws were enacted for three main reasons:

  • To discourage illicit sexual conduct
  • To protect pregnant woman against hazardous abortion procedures
  • To preserve the state’s interest in protecting the sanctity of life

The court held the first reason, though traditional, is not seriously considered by the courts. The second reason is outdated due to modern medical techniques. The court held the third reason of protecting prenatal life is partially negated after considering that a pregnant woman cannot be prosecuted for the act of an abortion.

In reaching a decision, the Court acknowledged that a woman’s right to an abortion is covered under the fundamental right to privacy and how each fundamental right is subject to strict scrutiny (regulation must be justified by a compelling state interest and legislation must be narrowly tailored to further the stated interest). However, although a woman’s privacy right outweighs any state interest during the early stages of pregnancy, the state interest in protecting both the mother and unborn fetus grows throughout the pregnancy.

The Court ultimately decided that prior to completion of the first trimester, a woman may have an abortion and electing to do so may not be criminalized.

After the first trimester, the state may regulate abortion in a manner reasonably related to the mother’s health because the state has an interest in preserving the health of the mother.

The remainder of the pregnancy after the fetus reaches viability, the state may regulate or prevent abortion unless such procedure is vital to protect the mother’s life.  This authority is based on the state’s interest to protect the life of the unborn child.

Rule of Law or Legal Principle Applied:

Under the constitution, the right to privacy protects a woman’s right to have an abortion. The state may regulate abortions after the first trimester and may be prohibited once the fetus reached viability. Exceptions are made when the life of the mother is in jeopardy.

Concurring/Dissenting Opinions:

Concurring (Burger):

The abortion statute wrongfully restricts abortions for the purpose of preserving the pregnant woman’s health.

Concurring (Stewart):

The liberty interest at stake is best supported by substantive due process, not a “vague” right to privacy.

Concurring (Douglas):

Douglas agrees with the majority that a woman’s right to have an abortion exists and is not outweighed by the state’s stated interest, but says the right to an abortion is a basic right under marriage and family decisions in the Bill of Rights.

Dissent (White):

The holding merely creates a new constitutional right for women and is not supported by the Constitution.

Dissent (Rehnquist):

The right to privacy is not at issue in the present case. Regulation of abortion should be treated as economic and social regulations, which are upheld if it can meet a rational basis standard of review. A sweeping decision that the state has no interest during the first trimester is improper.

Significance:

Roe v.Wade was the landmark case which established a woman’s right to an abortion is protected under the fundamental right to privacy. It is important to note that, although the court implements a strict scrutiny analysis, later the established (and current) standard will not be strict scrutiny but an “undue burden” test.

Student Resources:

http://www.pbs.org/wnet/supremecourt/rights/landmark_roe.html
https://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt/text/410/113

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