For those who abhor the practice of elective abortion, January 22, 1973 will long be considered a tragic, horrendous day.
Why? Because that was the day the U.S. Supreme Court handed down decisions in two cases that have served to devalue the meaning of life in the United States. As a result of those rulings, millions of Americans have been inspired to form, and join, groups like Right to Life—groups which have advocated passionately for fetus’ rights ever since.
Both cases, Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton, started at the district court level (in Texas and Georgia, respectively). When they arrived at the Supreme Court, both cases passed by 7-2 majorities.
The Court’s ruling in Roe made the choice of abortion a national law. It did, however, allow for a provision whereby states may regulate any such choice. Under Roe, first-trimester abortions are not subject to state regulations, while states can regulate (but not ban) abortions during months four through six. Roe did give states the right to ban third-trimester abortions; in fact, as of November 2011, 39 states have passed laws either banning or limiting such late-term procedures.
Roe v. Wade, in essence, made the subsequent decision that day in Doe v. Bolton academic. The Court ruling in Doe struck down an existing Georgia law which, among other things, permitted abortions only in the cases of rape, fetal deformity, or the possibility of severe or fatal injury to the mother. In Doe, the Supreme Court upheld the Georgia District Court ruling by saying that the Ninth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees a woman the right to choose an abortion without interference by any branch of government.
The majority opinions in both Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton were written by Supreme Court Associate Justice Harry Blackmun. In Roe, Blackmun said that denying a woman the choice to abort her fetus violated several Constitutional amendments. In addition, he suggested that the Fourth Amendment gives all Americans a fundamental right of privacy that includes a woman’s right either to carry a child or abort it. Blackmun also used the Fourteenth Amendment to assert the notion that a fetus becomes a person on the day a baby leaves the womb—not at conception.
That fundamental question—“When does one’s life begin?”—continues to arouse opinions on both sides of the abortion issue. One thing is clear: Right to Life’s uncompromising stance that conception defines both personhood and American citizenship will be preached fervently by its members until the atrocities of Roe and Doe are overturned.