On this day in 1973, the American Supreme Court voted 7-2 in favour of legalizing abortion in all 50 US states following the landmark Roe v. Wade case. In December of 1971, a Texas woman – using the name Jane Roe – had challenged a state law that forbade abortion in all circumstances except when pregnancy threatened the mother’s life. Roe won her case locally, but the state made an appeal and the case was sent to the Supreme Court. After much deliberation and media attention, the case was decided in Roe’s favour. It had been decided that the US Constitution’s 14th Amendment guarantees a woman’s rights to privacy, and therefore to choosing abortion in most circumstances.
Jane Roe, or Norma McCorvey, had already had two children by the time she became pregnant again in 1969. Despite advice from friends to claim she had been raped (Texas state law did not allow for abortion even under those circumstances), McCorvey attempted to get an illegal abortion without success. Attorneys Sarah Waddington and Linda Coffee helped McCorvey file a lawsuit against the District Attorney Henry Wade, and the case went from there. Due to the length of the process, McCorvey ended up giving birth before the landmark ruling was made, and her child was put up for adoption.
Interestingly, McCorvey’s stance on abortion changed radically in the mid 1990s. After witnessing a particularly graphic abortion-related poster in a women’s clinic, McCorvey converted to Catholicism and began campaigning to overturn Roe v. Wade. Despite the ruling having been made over 40 years ago, the debate on Roe v. Wade – and on women’s rights to privacy and bodily autonomy (which are constitutionally mandated rights) – continues to this day in American politics.