The story behind the Roe v. Wade case

Norma McCorvey, who was Jane Roe in the Roe v. Wade case, was 21 years old when she was pregnant with her third child in 1969. She wanted to abort her third pregnancy, but she was unable to do so since the illegal abortion clinic that she went to had been raided and shut down. She did end up giving birth to her third child in 1970 and giving this child up for adoption. Twenty-two years after the final ruling in Roe v. Wade, McCorvey did end up realizing that abortion is about the killing of unborn children. She is now pro-life and supports the reversal of the Roe v. Wade decision.

Sarah Weddington and Linda Coffee, the attorneys who represented Norma McCorvey in the Roe v. Wade case, were looking to overturn the Texas abortion statute back in 1969. In order to make their case, they needed a pregnant woman who wanted to have an abortion in Texas but would remain pregnant and not travel to a state or country where abortion was legal. They were introduced to Norma McCorvey, who was seeking to abort her third pregnancy, through an adoption attorney. They both found the plaintiff that they needed to make their case, and Linda Coffee filed the Roe v. Wade case on March 3, 1970.

A three-judge federal district court in Dallas ruled that the Texas law which prohibited abortion was unconstitutional, but the district court was unwilling to issue an injunction against Henry Wade, who was the district attorney in Dallas at the time of Roe v. Wade. Henry Wade was still willing to prosecute physicians who perform abortions in violation of Texas state law, even after the law in question was declared unconstitutional by the federal district court. Both sides appealed the decision of the federal district court, and the United States Supreme Court agreed to hear the Roe v. Wade case.

When the Roe v. Wade case reached the United Supreme Court, Sarah Weddington will argue that abortion is safer than childbirth and back up this argument with statistics from New York, who already had legalized abortion by the time that Weddington made her argument. She will also mention that a woman who undergoes an illegal abortion in the state of Texas is not guilty of a crime in her argument. Justice Potter Stewart then asks the question of what rights does a fetus have. In response, Weddington will say that that a fetus has no constitutional rights based on the final rulings of the Byrn v. New York and Magee-Womens Hospital cases. It will then be argued that the pregnant woman has constitutionally guaranteed rights under the United States Constitution, but that her unborn fetus does not have any constitutionally guaranteed rights under the United States Constitution prior to birth.

Robert Flowers, who was an Assistant Attorney General of the State of Texas at the time that Roe v. Wade was argued, will admit that an unborn child is a person. He will also say that the state does not have a compelling interest if an embryo or fetus were a protoplasm instead of a person. He will also read Texas statute 1195, which prohibits the killing of a child during childbirth and treats a child as a person during the process of childbirth. Flowers will even argue that the state has an interest in preventing promiscuity in addition to protecting the life of the unborn human being. He will distinguish between contraception and abortion by saying that contraception prevents the conception of new life while an abortion destroys existing human life.

Justice Stewart will then argue that the primary purpose behind the anti-abortion laws of the 19th century was to protect the health and lives of pregnant women from the dangers of abortion back then. Sarah Weddington will then argue that no one can prove when life begins and that no one can show that the Constitution was intended to protect fetal life at the time that it was adopted. She will also argue that the Texas abortion statute in question in Roe v. Wade is unconstitutional, regardless of the stage of pregnancy in which the abortion takes place. Weddington will say that in the case of pregnancy, a woman is generally not a productive member of society, unable to work, ineligible for welfare, and is ineligible for unemployment compensation. She will defend a pregnant woman’s constitutional right to determine whether to carry the pregnancy to term or to terminate the pregnancy and that the state has shown no interest in interfering with that decision, but she was not asking that the United States Supreme Court rule that abortion is good or desirable.

On January 22, 1973, the United States Supreme Court will finally rule that Texas’s abortion statute is unconstitutional. The United States Supreme Court will also rule that a woman has a constitutional right to choose whether or not to terminate the pregnancy, but it will also uphold that the state does have an interest in protecting the pregnant woman’s health and the potentiality of human life. However, the United States Supreme Court has also ruled that the governmental interest is not compelling enough to justify prohibiting abortion in the first trimester in Roe v. Wade. The Supreme Court had also ruled that a state may regulate abortion during the second trimester in ways that are related to the protection of maternal health and that a state may even prohibit abortion in the third trimester, except where necessary to preserve the life or health of the mother. The Roe v. Wade case, along with the Doe v. Bolton case, enabled abortion to be legal during all nine months of pregnancy throughout the entire United States.


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