April 14, 2024

Nearly 50 years ago, the Supreme Court legalized abortion in the United States with its decision on Roe v. Wade, reshaping the nation’s social and political landscapes.

On Monday night, Politico published a leaked draft opinion that said the Supreme Court had privately voted to strike down the decision, setting the stage for abortion-rights battles across the nation and prompting a wave of protests at the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C.

Here are some quick facts you should know about the case.

The 7-2 ruling was announced on Jan. 22, 1973. Justice Harry A. Blackmun, a modest Midwestern Republican and a defender of the right to abortion, wrote the majority opinion.

In short, it is a landmark Supreme Court decision that established a constitutional right to abortion. The ruling struck down laws in many states that had barred abortion, declaring that they could not ban the procedure before the point at which a fetus can survive outside the womb.

That point, known as fetal viability, was around 28 weeks when Roe was decided. Today, because of improvements in medicine, most experts now estimate fetal viability to be about 23 or 24 weeks.

In 1970, a woman in Texas named Norma McCorvey was five months pregnant with her third child and wanted to have an abortion. Two Dallas lawyers, Sarah Weddington and Linda Coffee, represented her in challenging the state’s prohibition on abortions except to save a mother’s life.

Jane Roe was a pseudonym for Ms. McCorvey, who was 22 when her case was filed. She later spoke out against abortion, but in a documentary in 2020, Ms. McCorvey said she had done so only because she was paid for her advocacy. She died in 2017 at 69.

“Wade” refers to the defendant, Henry Wade, who was the district attorney in Dallas County, Texas, at the time. Mr. Wade died in 2001 at 86.

Roe v. Wade created the framework to govern abortion regulation based on the trimesters of pregnancy. In the first trimester, it allowed almost no regulations. In the second, it allowed regulations to protect women’s health. In the third, it allowed states to ban abortions so long as exceptions were made to protect the life and health of the mother.

In 1992, the court tossed the trimester framework in Planned Parenthood v. Casey. However, Casey retained Roe’s “essential holding,” meaning that women have a constitutional right to terminate their pregnancies until fetal viability.

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