Perhaps one of the most controversial issues debated between lawmakers and legislatures is abortion. Disputes concerning abortion began during the 1820s. By 1965, with a few exceptions, abortion had been made illegal in all states. Abortions were only permitted when the fetus was deformed, or if birth of the baby would harm the mother’s life. All of this changed however in 1973 during the landmark Supreme Court Case of Roe v. Wade which legalized abortion. The Supreme Court recognized that it is solely a mother’s choice whether to become a parent. The court also recognized that an issue as significant as child bearing warrants the highest level of constitutional protection. According to the Court, a state’s interest in potential life is not “compelling” until there is a status of viability—the point in pregnancy at which there is a reasonable possibility for the sustained survival of the fetus outside of the womb. The Court also affirmed that the right to privacy is not absolute and that a state does have a valid interest in safeguarding maternal health, maintaining medical standards, and protecting potential health. Under the Court’s decision, a state may, but is not required to prohibit abortion after viability, except when it is necessary to protect a women’s life or health.
The Roe v. Wade decision faced immediate opposition. Opponents at both the federal and state level urged government to pass anti-abortion legislation. Over the next two decades, the Supreme Court was repeatedly called upon to decide whether a wide range of abortion statutes violated a woman’s right to privacy. While a large portion of these restrictions were considered unconstitutional, the court granted limitations on the ability of young females and women of low income to choose abortion in a series of cases beginning in the 1970’s. State and federal bans on funding were upheld as well as provisions requiring young women to obtain the consent of or notify their parents prior to having an abortion.
The unraveling of Roe began in 1989 when the Supreme Court allowed a number of restrictions on abortion in the Webster v. Reproductive Health Services case. This decision, compiled with changes in the make-up of the Supreme Court, led many to believe that the Roe decision was just a step away from being overturned. In July 1992, the court backed down from overturning Roe completely in Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, but once again superimposed many restrictions. The case resulted in a divided opinion that established a new test, the “undue burden standard” for determining whether restrictions are constitutional. According to the court, the government cannot pass laws that have the purpose or effect of placing a substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion. Most importantly, the Court reaffirmed the Roe decision.
Since the 1973 decision, the...