By the beginning of 1970, when the case Roe v Wade, there had been formed the recognition that the US Constitution does embrace a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy by abortion, thus labeling the restrictive regulation of abortions unconstitutional. The ruling of the Supreme Court on this case supported this premise while balancing between the state’s interests and woman’s right to privacy, as well as women’s health and a potential fetus’s life interests. In the US, the Supreme Court plays a major role in interpreting the Constitution and protecting individual rights, yet this ruling, in particular, fuelled the contradictions concerning abortions and established new social movements, including a strong anti-abortion one (Adkins, 2017). The purpose of this paper is to analyze the decision of the Supreme Court in this case. The author argues that the decision is justified in terms of legal and social dimensions and demonstrates how the contradictions could be overcome in legal terms.
Description of the Case
Roe v Wade (1973) is one of the most controversial and, at the same time, crucial for women’s rights Supreme Court cases. Its outcome is the constitutional right to abortion, although only before an impetus becomes viable. The decision challenged the constitutionality of criminal abortion laws: the Court ruled in favor of a mother’s right to abortion before 24-28 weeks of the pregnancy has passed. The decision states: “the attending physician, in consultation with his patient, is free to determine, without regulation by the State, that, in his medical judgment the patient’s pregnancy should be terminated” (Roe v Wade 1973, p.164 as cited in Hall & Patrick 2017). This decision was revolutionary for a woman’s reproductive rights protection.
Having declared restrictive state regulation of abortion unconstitutional, the Supreme Court has relied on the constitutional right to privacy, which is entrenched, although implicitly, in the liberty guarantee of the Fourteenth Amendment (Donohue & Levitt, 2019). The Court’s primary stake here was to find a balance between a woman’s health and the potential life interests of fetuses. The main legal category here became the fetus’s viability, i.e., “capability of meaningful life outside the mother’s womb” (Roe v Wade 1973, p.178 as cited in Hall & Patrick, 2017). Although the plaintiff asserted an absolute right to terminate a pregnancy, the Court had to balance between the right to privacy and a state’s interest in abortion regulation. The latter was left to narrow consideration in individual cases.
The Impact of the Case
The US Supreme Court has had a substantial impact on the emergence and development of social movements. The decision of the Supreme Court on the Roe v Wade case strengthened and enhanced second-wave feminism with its demand for women’s equality. Simultaneously, the emergence of a strong anti-abortion movement is seen to be caused by the Roe verdict (Adkins, 2017). Thus, the ruling of the Court has exposed and fuelled the existing contradictions and conflicts in society.
This contradiction of when a human embryo can be considered a human being has even more relevance now since the biotechnologies and biomedical development of the 21st century touch the core of this problem. Genetics and manipulations with embryos involve human ontology and have an ambiguous impact on the US’s social, political, and economic life. However, there may be an opportunity to overcome the debates of whether an impetus is a living creature or not in US legal terms. Another view on the decision could be from the side of an equal protection argument. The US law does not require a person to provide aid to another individual who is in danger or needs assistance (Hall & Patrick, 2017). If we forbid abortions, we impose such obligations on pregnant women, which contradicts the equal protection clause.
One of the significant impacts of the ruling on the Roe v Wade (1973) case has a long-term nature. Extensive research has shown that the legalization of abortion leads to a decrease in crime (Donohue & Levitt, 2019). At first, just after abortions had been legalized, the crime rate dropped due to the decriminalization of abortion procedures. However, the right to abortions has even greater causality on crime. The reason here lies in the link between the legalization of abortion and children’s lives outcomes. The point is that unwanted children are more likely to end up with less favorable life outcomes and are expected to exhibit more criminal behavior.
The ruling of the Supreme Court on the Roe v Wade (1973) case is justified both legally and socially. The decision was based on the constitutional right of privacy, which is implicitly entrenched in the liberty guarantee of the Fourteenth Amendment. Moreover, the crucial point of the Court’s decision was in the balance between a woman’s health and the potential fetus’s life interests. Thus, the category of viability became central in the abortion legislation and further cases. The Roe v Wade case had an immediate and long-term impact on the US law and social agenda. While it exposed and fuelled the already-existing contradictions in society, the benefits of such constitutional change are significant. From the long-term perspective, the right to abortion causes a considerable decrease in crime since it indirectly impacts the children’s living conditions. The debates on a fetus’s life questions can be overcome in legal terms by invoking an equal protection argument.
Adkins, C. M. (2017). The impact of Roe v. Wade (1973) on the American abortion rights movement. Web.
Donohue, J. J., & Levitt, S. D. (2019). The impact of legalized abortion on crime over the last two decades. National Bureau of Economic Research. Web.
Hall, K. L. & Patrick J. J. (2017) Abortion, Privacy, and Values in Conflict. In K. L. Hall & J. J. Patrick (Eds.), The pursuit of justice: Supreme Court decisions that shaped America. Oxford University Press. Web.