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Roe v. Wade

Roe v. Wade, case decided in 1973 by the U.S. Supreme Court. Along with Doe v. Bolton, this decision legalized abortion in the first trimester of pregnancy. The decision, written by Justice Harry Blackmun and based on the residual right of privacy, struck down dozens of state antiabortion statutes. The decision was based on two cases, that of an unmarried woman from Texas, where abortion was illegal unless the mother's life was at risk, and that of a poor, married mother of three from Georgia, where state law required permission for an abortion from a panel of doctors and hospital officials. While establishing the right to an abortion, this decision gave states the right to intervene in the second and third trimesters of pregnancy to protect the woman and the "potential" life of the unborn child. Denounced by the National Council of Bishops, the decision gave rise to a vocal antiabortion movement that put pressure on the courts and created an anti-Roe litmus test for the judicial appointments of the Reagan and Bush administrations (1981–93). In a 1989 case, Webster v. Reproductive Health Services, the court, while not striking down Roe, limited its scope, permitting states greater latitude in regulating and restricting abortions. Then in 1992, in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the court reaffirmed the abortion rights granted in Roe v. Wade, while permitting further restrictions.

See N. McCorvey with A. Meisler, I Am Roe (1994); N. E. H. Hull and P. C. Hoffer, Roe v. Wade: The Abortion Rights Controversy in American History (2001, rev. ed. 2010).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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