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A Fight For Abortion Rights In The US: From 1970s To Now

The history of abortion rights in the US is complex and abortions before the Roe vs Wade judgement were mostly illegal and had to be done in secrecy leading to health risks. But why are they going backwards again?

1970s Pro-Abortion Women'S Right To Choose Demonstration In New York City USA.
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The discourse around women's rights over their bodies is again taking the centre stage with the US Supreme Court overturning the landmark ruling of 1973, Roe vs Wade, that had made abortion a Constitutional right in the country. While this comes as no surprise — since a leaked Supreme Court majority opinion draft signalled the fall of Roe in May 2022 — it has shocked and outraged the nation and the world.

The history of abortion rights in the US is complex and abortions before the Roe vs Wade judgement were mostly illegal and had to be done in secrecy leading to health risks. But why are they going backwards again? Here’s a look back at the several judgements and rulings since 1973 which are deemed significant events in the county’s fight over abortion rights.

1970s
 

Roe v. Wade
 
In 1969, a woman referred to as Jane Roe in court documents filed a case challenging a law in Texas that disallowed abortions except in cases where it was required to save the woman’s life. She wanted to get an abortion and the lawsuit was filed against Henry Wade, the district attorney representing Dallas County where the woman resided. She argued that Texas laws were unconstitutionally vague and abridged her right to personal privacy, protected by the First, Fourth, Fifth, Ninth, and Fourteenth Amendments. The case made it all the way to the Supreme Court, which ruled 7-2 that the constitutional right to privacy protects a woman’s right to an abortion. The woman was later identified as Norma McCorvey and she died in 2017.
 
However, since the judgement was passed, ambiguity prevails in different abortion laws of different states.
 
Planned Parenthood v. Danforth
 
In 1976, two doctors and the Planned Parenthood Federation of America had sued the state of Mississippi following the state’s decision seeking the consent of a spouse or a guardian (for a minor under 18 years of age) for termination of pregnancy. It had imposed several restrictions on abortion laws. The justices ruled that those restrictions were unconstitutional because they gave “absolute veto power” to a third party. However, the court upheld a few restrictions as imposed by the state. In the same year, Congress passed the Hyde Amendment, banning the use of Medicaid and other federal funds for abortions except for rape, incest or life-threatening situations.
 

1980s
 

Harris v. McRae
 
First passed in 1976, the Hyde Amendment was later challenged in the Supreme Court by a pregnant Medicaid recipient named Cora McRae, who argued that the limitation of funds was unconstitutional. But in 1980, the SC upheld the Amendment and stated that a woman’s choice to abortion does not entitle her to the federal funds to pay for the procedure.
 
Bellotti v. Baird case
 
In 1981, in the Belloit vs Baird case, the SC upheld that a pregnant minor can file a petition in the court to seek an abortion without parental consent.
 
City of Akron v. Akron Center for Reproductive Health
 
In 1983, Akron city in Ohio had enacted an ordinance that required pregnant girls under 15 to seek parental consent for abortion. Among other measures, it had also imposed a 24-hour wait period. However, the SC struck them down, upholding that these restrictions would make it difficult for them to terminate the pregnancy.
 
Webster v. Reproductive Health Services
 
Hearing the Webster vs Reproductive Health Services case in 1989, the SC had ruled in favour of a Missouri law that had imposed restrictions on the use of state funds, facilities, and employees in performing, assisting with, or counselling abortions. This allowed for states to legislate in a way that had previously been thought to be illegal under Roe vs Wade.
 

1990s
 

Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pa. v. Casey
 
In 1980, Pennsylvania passed a law that had imposed various restrictions on women seeking abortion including a 24-hour wait period and informing the husbands. Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania sued the state, arguing the law went against the Roe vs Wade precedent. It was the first serious test of Roe's precedent, the case placed new limits on the right to state-level abortion restrictions in Pennsylvania.
 

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Freedom of Access to Clinics Act
 
In 1994, President Bill Clinton signed the Freedom of Access to Clinics Act. The Act made it a federal crime to physically obstruct the entrance to a clinic or to use force, the threat of force, or physical obstruction, such as a sit-in, to interfere with, injure, or intimidate clinic workers or women seeking abortions or other reproductive health services.
 
However, in 1995, Congress passed the HR 1833 Bill, also known as Partial-Birth Abortion Act. The Act makes it illegal for any doctor to knowingly perform a partial-birth abortion except when necessary to save the mother’s life. But on April 10, 1996, Clinton struck down the Bill and prevented it from becoming an Act.
 

2000s
 

In 2003, Congress approved the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, which was signed into law by President George W. Bush on November 5.
 
On August 5, 2002, Bush signed the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act, affirming legal protection to an infant born alive after a failed attempt at induced abortion.
 
Roe seeks to overturn the judgement
 
On June 17, 2003, in a major twist to Roe vs Wade case, Roe filed a motion with the federal court in Dallas seeking to have her case overturned. She argued that abortion hurts women. However, on September 14, 2004, a three-judge panel dismissed Roe's motion in the US Court of Appeals.
 
Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt
 
In 2016, the SC, in its strongest defence of abortion rights in 25 years, struck down restrictions on abortion laws in Texas. It dictated that Texas could not place restrictions on abortion services that create an undue burden for women seeking an abortion.
 
Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization
 
Similarly, in 2001, the Dobbs vs Jackson Women's Health Organization was brought to the SC where the apex court ruled against a Mississippi law that banned abortion after 15 weeks. It argued that the law would overturn the Roe judgement.
 

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2022
 

On May 2, 2022, a draft opinion suggested that the US Supreme Court could be poised to overturn the landmark 1973 Roe vs Wade case that legalized abortion nationwide, a Politico detailed a leaked SC report.
 
“Roe was egregiously wrong from the start,” the draft opinion states. It was signed by Justice Samuel Alito, a member of the court’s 6-3 conservative majority who was appointed by former President George W. Bush. The document was labelled a “1st Draft” of the “Opinion of the Court” in a case challenging Mississippi’s ban on abortion after 15 weeks, a case known as Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.
 
US Supreme Court overturns Joe v. Wade
 
The US Supreme Court on June 24 overturned the Roe vs Wade judgement that had made abortion a protected right under the American constitution.
 
Following the ruling, abortion would be banned or limited within the first trimester or early in the second in up to 20 American states.
 
 

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