Study Notes

Roe v Wade 1973

AQA, Edexcel, OCR, IB

Last updated 22 Mar 2021

This Supreme Court case ruled that under the right to privacy found in the Due Process clause extended to a woman’s right to have an abortion. The only caveat to that was the right must balance against the need to protect women’s health and protection of the potential human life.

Background to the Case:

Norma McCorvey found that she was pregnant and while in Dallas, Texas was counselled by friends to claim that she was raped in order to have a legal abortion. Texas had criminalised abortion along with many other states except in the case of rape or incest. However, despite the claim, the right to an abortion was denied as no accompanying police documentation was filed.

Attorneys filed a case on behalf of the McCorvey under the alias of Jane Roe. The case was filed at the District Court. The District Court ruled that the Texan Law was unconstitutional and the right to privacy is being violated. The ruling was based in part on the Griswold v Connecticut case. The case was appealed and ended up before the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court Case

After the first round of oral evidence the seven justices all agreed that the law was unconstitutional, albeit for different reasons. However, the case was then reargued in 1972. After deliberation the Court announced its decision in January 1973. The ruling was handed down by 7-2 which stated that an abortion was a right guaranteed by the US Constitution. It was found under the right to privacy established through the Ninth and Fourteenth amendment. However the court ruled that an abortion was only legal in the first trimester of a pregnancy.

The case remains one of the most controversial cases ever heard and many subsequent cases have been heard attempting to overturn this ruling.

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