Roe Turns 40

And fight over legal abortion rages on

Roe Turns 40
Illustration by Jason Stout

Today marks the 40th anniversary of the landmark Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion – and the fight to keep it so rages on.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 7-2 on Jan. 22, 1973 that the right to privacy, under the 14th Amendment's due process clause, extends to a woman's "qualified" right to terminate a pregnancy. States may not violate that right, but do have legitimate interest in protecting a woman's health and the potential life of the fetus. Thus, ongoing fights over abortion center on viability – think Gov. Rick Perry's current push for lawmakers to pass a so-called "fetal pain" bill.

While the fights over abortion, on their face, address the point at which a fetus is viable, Perry, among others, have made it clear that their goal is to outlaw all abortion. "Roe v. Wade paved the way for the loss of more than 54 million innocent lives, with more than a million added to that total with each passing year," Perry said in a statement marking the anniversary of Roe. "In Texas, we've worked hard to strengthen our abortion laws to the greatest extent possible under Roe v. Wade. We will continue working to empower families and protect our children's future, until the day abortion is nothing more than a tragic footnote in our nation's history."

In Texas, the number of abortions continues to drop modestly each year – from 81,079 in 2007, for example, to 77,592 in 2010, the last year for which there are complete numbers. (Interestingly, the number of live births has been dropping as well, at a faster rate: from 406,123 live births in 2007, to 384,500 in 2010.)

In order to reduce the number of abortions, women should be given adequate access to family planning and reproductive health services, women's health advocates argue. Instead, Texas lawmakers have cut millions from the family planning budget, and have worked overtime to craft language to ban Planned Parenthood from participation in the Texas Women's Health Program – in effect forbidding tens of thousands of women in the program from access to the provider of their choice. "It is unfortunate that discussions about women's health services – which are effective in preventing abortions – have become so polarizing," Austin Dem Rep. Donna Howard said in a press release. "We are losing sight of the serious health consequences and fiscal costs that result from a lack of access to medical screenings, contraception, and treatment."

For more on the state of women's health in Texas, see "Jumping the Shark on Women's Health," Jan. 18.

Find more on Roe v. Wade, including transcripts and audio from the oral arguments along with the 1973 opinion, here.

Got something to say on the subject? Send a letter to the editor.

Read more of the Chronicle's decades of reproductive rights reporting here.

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Planned Parenthood, abortion, reproductive rights, family planning, Rick Perry, Donna Howard, Roe v. Wade, Legislature

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