What Do You Know About Roe v. Wade?

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What Do You Know About Roe v. Wade?

Like many Americans, you know Roe v. Wade legalized abortion, but you may know little else.

by Shana Schutte

In 1973, the United States was different. Many families still ate dinner together around the kitchen table, kids everywhere were still allowed to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, and abortion was illegal in most states. Now, many families eat at McDonald's, "one nation under God" has been taken out of the Pledge, and abortion is legal in all 50 states.

If you're like many Americans, you've heard that the Supreme Court case of Roe v. Wade legalized abortion, but you may know little else. So what really happened in the case of Roe v. Wade? Who was Roe? Who was Wade? And how did the Supreme Court justify abortion which has resulted in the death of 48.5 million (National Right to Life statistic) babies since 1973?

Who was Roe?

In 1970, when Norma McCorvey, a 21-year-old single woman from Dallas became pregnant, she considered abortion. But the procedure was illegal in Texas and had been in most states since the end of the 19th century. It was a crime to either perform or obtain an abortion, except to save the life of the woman.

Because Norma's life was not in danger, she could not legally have an abortion and she didn't have the money to travel to a state where it was legal. She also feared she couldn't raise the baby because she was a ninth-grade dropout, poor and already the mother of two kids. So when Dallas-based lawyers Sarah Weddington and Linda Coffee approached McCorvey to become the anonymous "Jane Roe" in a class-action law suit to challenge the constitutionality of the Texas abortion law on behalf of all U.S. women, McCorvey consented.

Who was Wade?

McCorvey sued Dallas County District Attorney Henry Wade to be allowed to have an abortion. Weddington and McCorvey also asked the court to rule that Wade not be allowed to prosecute any other women in the future under the Texas abortion law.

Surprisingly, a panel of three judges in Texas declared the state's abortion law unconstitutional. However, they declined injunctive relief to the plaintiffs, so Weddington and Roe went to Washington to argue the case before seven U. S. Supreme Court justices in December 1971.

Justice Harry A. Blackmun, who wrote the Court's majority opinion, said:

"One's philosophy, one's experiences, one's exposure to the raw edges of human existence, one's religious training, one's attitudes toward life and family and their values, and the moral standards one establishes and seeks to observe, are all likely to influence and color one's thinking and conclusions about abortion."

Because of these difficulties, Blackmun stressed that the case should be decided on the basis of the Constitution rather than on opinion, which was exactly what Weddington wanted. However, when Justice Potter Stewart asked Weddington to show where the Constitution justified abortion, she came up empty handed.

Later, because the justices had recently appointed two new members and some of them were uncertain of their stand, they decided to reargue the case again on October 11, 1972 after much debate.

During the second round of arguments, the justices questioned Weddington on the constitutional status of an unborn child and they also argued when life begins.

How did the Supreme Court decide to legalize abortion?

Finally, the Court declared abortion a "fundamental right under the United States Constitution," based on the right to personal privacy declared in the 14th Amendment. However, Blackmun, who wrote the Court opinion, stated that "the Constitution does not explicitly mention any right of privacy." He also stated that since 1891, the Supreme Court had upheld the right to personal privacy in ‘zones' such as marriage, family relationships, contraception, childbirth, child rearing and education. The court decided that this right to personal privacy also extended to the unmarried. In the end, the justices decided 7-2 in favor of Roe.

As a result, abortion was legalized in all 50 states. Even though the Court adhered to a right to privacy, they also decided that this right is not absolute in all cases. Therefore, they ruled that the states had a responsibility to protect the life of the unborn baby after the point of "viability," or when the child could live outside the womb. Therefore, abortion was legalized through the first trimester (or first three months) of pregnancy. After this point, the rights of the unborn child would legally override the privacy of the woman, unless her life was in danger.

In more than a dozen cases since 1973, many states have appealed to the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade. The court has never consented. Instead, they have allowed states to regulate abortion in some cases; but the decision to allow a woman to choose abortion during the first three months of pregnancy, regardless of the reason, has remained.

What happened to Norma McCorvey?

Ironically, McCorvey never had an abortion because she was too far along in her pregnancy. Instead, she gave birth to a baby girl, whom she placed for adoption.

During this year's 35th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, McCorvey won't be celebrating the case like most pro-abortion supporters. Why? Because in 1995, she became a Christian.

When she worked at a women's clinic in Dallas, the Rev. Phillip Behman often spoke with her outside while they both took a break from work. Behman, the national director for the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue, had moved next door to McCorvey's clinic, which she wasn't happy about.

According to Behman, McCorvey was "hard-core" in support of abortion and hated him and his organization. But all of that changed one day when Behman started discussing Christianity with McCorvey and she made friends with some of the Operation Rescue staff. Later, she attended church, accepted Christ and was baptized in a swimming pool at a home in Dallas. She was thrilled, but not everyone shared her joy.

Weddington has said that she regrets choosing McCorvey as her plaintiff because she did not represent the case well. McCorvey now says that she "fell into the hands of two young and ambitious lawyers…[and] became a pawn in a powerful game."

As a result of McCorvey's conversion, she has become an active anti-abortion protestor. After accepting Christ, she went to work for Operation Rescue and even wrote a book about her experience. She is the founder of Crossing Over Ministry, through which she speaks out against abortion. She also has a passion to help crisis pregnancies and other pro-life organizations in the fight against the abortion movement.

Yes, a lot has changed since 1973, including Norma McCorvey. Who knows, with God all things are possible, even for Roe v. Wade to be overturned.








Shana Schutte is a freelance writer, author and speaker living in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Copyright January 2008 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. International copyright secured.


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