In 1973, the United States Supreme Court ruled on the controversial issue of abortion. In its decision, the top court in America held that a woman could abort her pregnancy for any reason, up until the point of a fetus’ viability. The Court’s ruling made it unconstitutional for state and federal governments to restrict a woman’s right to elect abortion and opened the door for a three decade debate over the issue of abortion.
However, some think that Roe v. Wade is the final frontier of the women’s movement. Given the state of women’s rights, the current laws on abortion and continuing discrimination against women in other fields, this position lacks merit.
ROE v. WADE, 410 U.S. 113 (1973)
Roe v. Wade is actually a combined or companion controversy that was presented to the Highest Court in America. The primary issue was a woman’s right to elect to voluntarily terminate an unwanted or unplanned pregnancy. There was no person called Jane Roe or Mary Doe.
In September 1969, Norma L. McCorvey discovered she was pregnant. Seeking to end her unplanned pregnancy, she sought a legal abortion, but the option was not available. She sought an illegal abortion and found the facility closed by police. Eventually, she sought legal aid and filed an action in Texas federal court and sought the right to legally terminate her pregnancy.
Then, District Attorney Henry Wade, defending the Texas’ law on the issue, defended the state law which prevented women from aborting their babies, unless there was a specific exception such as rape.
By 1970, the case went forward and McCorvey and her counsel argued that women had the right to terminate unplanned pregnancies based on the Supreme Court’s ruling in Griswold v. Connecticut, a case which found that state laws could not preclude a couple’s use of contraception. McCorvey won her case in District Court, but the case ultimately found its way to the United States Supreme Court.
In the United States Supreme Court, the matter was argued and then reargued. On January 22, 1973, seven of the nine Supreme Court justices agreed that a woman had the right to chose to terminate an unwanted or unplanned pregnancy because it was an inherent personal liberty.
IMPACT OF ROE v. WADE
While Roe spurred a debate about pro-life and arguments about the issue of when life for a human begins, it also triggered a new standard in the law which established that women had the right of self and individual determination as it related to their bodies. The Court’s decision in Roe empowered the growing feminist movement in America.
THE FEMINIST MOVEMENT
Since the early days of America’s history, women had struggled for rights equal to men. As early as the 1700 and 1800s, federal and state laws limited a woman’s right to own property, vote and education. The first woman’s right conference was held in 1848 and women were given the right to vote in 1920. Names like Susan B. Anthony and Lucretia Mott.
From 1920 to 1973, the American social landscape changed. While men were off at war, women had to take factory jobs to help support the American economy. Women faced discrimination in the workplace and in efforts to gain political office.
Women’s rights group became more active as women around the world as other countries and cultures began to promote programs and beliefs that women had the right to self determination.
By the time of the Roe decision, a number of feminist activist groups had already began to argue for stronger laws that protected women just as laws were being devised to protect minorities and the disabled. Setting more legal precedents regarding sex discrimination, jury service, affirmative action and the equal rights amendments to various statutes and regulations, the feminist movement was successful in establishing a framework for equality for women. And, names like Gloria Steinem became household names.
While great strides have been made for women since the Roe decision, many think that Roe is the final frontier for the women’s movement. While Roe has open the door for basic constitutional considerations, such as privacy and liberty, women are still not free to make absolute choices involving career and their bodies.
Status of Abortion Laws
The precedent of Roe continues to be challenged in state and federal courts. At present, many states still limit the right of a woman to obtain abortions based on age, health risk of mother, and method of pregnancy termination. Federal law, per the Partial-Birth Abortion Act, precludes second trimester abortions performed via intact dilation and extraction of an unborn fetus.
Also, while the Roe Court determined that abortions could not be performed after a fetus has reached the age of viability, Congress was enacted the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, which some feel is a step toward banning abortion.
Women in Combat in the Military
The Middle Eastern Conflicts and Wars have placed women into combat several times. And, data indicates that more than 108 women have been killed in combat zones. While the current military culture precludes women from being formally considered for combat service, military reality dictates that woman should be afforded equal consideration as men. A female inclusion in selective service registration could be the next big litigation that moves women’s issues to the next stage.
While many think that Roe was the last great frontier of the women’s movement, these same people consider only the limited scope of the controversial Supreme Court decision. Roe v. Wade laid the foundation for the constitutional redefining of a woman and her right for self determination.
The feminist movement has made strides based on America’s progressive attitude and cultural realities. There are more legal battles and social considerations to be debated and decided as it relates to women, their bodies, employment and discrimination. Roe was just a landing on a long stairway to ultimate equality.
For more information on the history of women’s equality, Roe v. Wade and the status of the modern feminist movement, check out the following websites: