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Roe v. Wade

Citation. Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113, 93 S. Ct. 705, 35 L. Ed. 2d 147, 1973)
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Brief Fact Summary.

A state law that absolutely prohibited elective abortions was challenged as unconstitutional.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

Consistent with the Constitution, a state may not absolutely prohibit elective abortions.


Roe (Plaintiff) was threatened with prosecution under a Texas law that prohibited all abortions other than those necessary to save the life of the mother.  Plaintiff later challenged the law as unconstitutional.  The district and appellate courts held the law constitutional, and the United States Supreme Court granted review.


May a state constitutionally prohibit all elective abortions?


(Blackmun, J.)  No.  Consistent with the Constitution, a state may not absolutely prohibit elective abortions.  State abortion laws do not enjoy the “historical pedigree” some believe.  Mostly, they were passed in the second half of the nineteenth century, as a response to the high mortality rate of abortions in those days, which is no longer a relevant concern.  No express right of privacy is given by the Constitution, however that right has been recognized since perhaps 1891.  This right exists as a corollary to provisions of the First, Ninth, and Fourteenth Amendments.  This Court believes that this right encompasses a woman’s right to elect to terminate a pregnancy.  Until the fetus is viable, the state has no interest in the potential life the woman is carrying and cannot prohibit elective abortions.  After viability, a state may take steps to protect the fetus, up to and including banning of abortions.  Reversed.


This case represents likely the most controversial United States Supreme Court decision since the Dred Scott decision of the 1850s.  Some hailed it as a landmark for women’s rights.  Some attacked it both for its reasoning and for its result, which pushed the edge of judicial activism.  Despite the uproar, the opinion has survived many legislative and political attacks.

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