Today marks the 45th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling in which the Supreme Court stated that access to abortion is protected under the right to privacy, legalizing abortion across the United States. The right to privacy is protected by the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution.
The story of Roe v. Wade started in 1971 in Texas when Norma McCorvey, named Jane Roe in court documents, sought an abortion but could not find a doctor to perform one. Dallas County district attorney Henry Wade was enforcing a state law banning abortions despite the fact that the law had already being declared unconstitutional in an earlier court case. McCorvey filed a lawsuit against Wade, setting off a case that would eventually transform reproductive healthcare in the U.S.
Through the mid 1960s, abortion was only legal in six states and estimated counts of illegal abortions between the 1950’s and 1960’s ranged from 200,000 to 1.2 million per year. Due to severe abortion bans in most of the country, many women performed the procedures themselves despite significant health risks. Most women who performed illegal or self-induced abortions were women of color and low-income women. In 1962, roughly 1,600 women were admitted to a hospital in New York City for incomplete abortions. According to Planned Parenthood, illegal abortions made up one-sixth of all pregnancy-related deaths in 1965.
With the legalization of abortion across all 50 states, abortion-related mortality rates dramatically decreased. Currently, abortions are one of the safest medical procedures in the US, with a 99% safety record.
But with the progress of Roe v. Wade came the rise of a vocal anti-abortion movement that over the last 45 years has pursued judicial and political influence in an attempt to pass anti-abortion legislation, and with the goal of eventually overturning Roe v. Wade.
Between 2011 and 2016, 334 new abortion restrictions were implemented in states across the country, from unconstitutional building requirements that led to the closures of dozens of clinics to multi-day waiting periods that aim to make it more difficult for women, especially low-income women, to access abortion care. Meanwhile, anti-abortion politicians at the state and federal levels pursue policies that defund Planned Parenthood, fund abstinence only education, ban abortions after 20 week, and ban abortions after 8 weeks.
Despite these restrictions, a Pew Research survey shows that 69% of Americans do not want to overturn Roe v. Wade. Feminist activists are fighting every day to stop abortion restrictions at the state and federal levels and to protect family planning clinics that provide reproductive healthcare to some of the most vulnerable people in the United States. If you would like to learn more about the Feminist Majority’s efforts to protect clinics, visit our Campaign to Expose Anti-Abortion Violence.
News Sources: Planned Parenthood; Bustle 12/9/16; CNN 1/22/13; The Washington Post 1/22/13; Feminist Newswire 11/5/17