Category Archives: Informative

Roe v. Wade (410 U.S. 113 (1973))

Photo of Norma McCorvey, a.k.a. Jane Roe.

Photo: Norma McCorvey (left) and lawyer (right) advocating

The famous Roe V. Wade case of 1973. The court decision that stuck down all state laws restricting abortion during a woman’s first trimester of pregnancy. Never once has a case been decided so much on religion, beliefs, ethics, and morality. It challenged a woman’s right to privacy and abortion laws across the United States.

At the time, two graduates of the University of Texas, Linda Coffee and Sarah Weddington, brought on a case on behalf of Norma McCorvey (under alias as Jane Roe), a pregnant, unmarried woman arguing that the Texas law criminalizing most abortions unconstitutional. At the time, the Texas law had a restriction on all abortions other than those to save the life of the mother. The lawsuit was filed against the Dallas Country District Attorney, Henry Wade, and he appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. In a 7-2 decision, the Court ruled Texas law unconstitutional, and in violation of the 9th and 14th amendments in the Bill of Rights, those amendments protecting privacy of an individual.

And so Norma McCorvey won her case, but it was too late to go through with the abortion, for she was too far along in her pregnancy when the case was finally decided.

Up until this case, there were laws restricting abortion in almost every state and was greatly limited by law in several others. State laws limiting access during the second trimester were only upheld only when to preserve the health of the mother. Roe v. Wade is known for the legalization of abortion in the United States.

The Supreme Court found that a woman’s right to privacy deserves the highest level of protection and care, thanks to Roe v. Wade. The Court also, however, recognizes that the right to privacy is not absolute and assured and that each state has its own protection guarding maternal health.

The Roe v. Wade case may be the most famous and important reproductive rights case, and especially when studying abortion legal history. As one of the most debated cases in U.S. legal history, much criticism comes out of it. Tulane Law School Student Alex McBride suggests that, “To the political Right, critics accuse the Court in Roe of legalizing the murder of human life with flimsy constitutional justifications. To the Left, critics maintain that Roe was poorly reasoned and caused an unnecessary political backlash against abortion rights.” (McBride) To this day, many believe that this was a classic example of pure protection of an individual’s most basic human rights – that of privacy.

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NARAL Pro-Choice America: Heroes & Scandals

The organization has had several names throughout its existence. In its establishment in 1969, it was first known as the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws, then the National Abortion Rights Action League, and later the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League. It is, and always has been, an organization that engages in political action to oppose restrictions on abortion and expand access to abortion itself.

The original NARAL program directed the following parts:

  1. Assist in the formation in all states of direct political action groups dedicated to the purpose of NARAL;
  2. Serve as a cleaning house for activities related to NARAL’s purpose;
  3. Create new materials for mass distribution which tell the repeal story dramatically and succinctly;
  4. Train field workers to organize and stimulate legislative action;
  5. Suggest direct action projects;
  6. Raise funds for the above activities.

Among those who founded the NARAL were abortionists Lawrence Lader and Dr. Bernard Nathanson.

Lawrence Lader was a long time reproductive rights activist, and served as a hero in the pro-choice abortion world for nearly 4 decades up until his death in 2006. He did what he could to get involved with the laws and helped repeal New York State’s law of abortion restrictions in 1970. He also attempted to sue the Internal Revenue Service to end the Roman Catholic Church’s tax exemptions, implying that its opposition against abortion had now become a political matter. He first got involved in the abortion world while writing a biography of Margaret Sanger, going over abortion laws and techniques at the time. Then by the 1950s, he thought, techniques and procedures were now much safer and more commonly used, acknowledging that it was, however, still taboo to discuss.

Dr. Bernard Nathanson was another co-founder of the NARAL and was, at one point, the director of the largest abortion clinic in the western hemisphere. He had gone through a shift on his stance – and also got involved in the law in a different way than Lader. Nathanson, at first, was a firm believer in pro-choice abortion rights and over time began to lean the other way with his views. He openly admitted to a scandal against the NARAL, misinforming the public that abortion does not murder another human being. In a statement in 2008, he admitted that, “This was the greatest mistake of my life…legal abortion was the greatest mistake this nation has ever conceived.” (Nathanson)

The link below is a short video of a statement by Dr. Nathanson:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1xfEoqGeliA

This scandal was not taken lightly and NARAL then faced much digression. For an organization to knowingly misinform the public, and for a founder and director of an abortion clinic to shift his views so suddenly made the pro-choice world appear suspicious.

NARAL, however, never did shut down, and it never went through any trial or courts for that scandal. It is still in existence today, assisting millions of individuals facing abortion restrictions.

For more information regarding NARAL, click on this link to their homepage:
http://www.naral.org/

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Griswold v. Connecticut (381 U.S. 479 (1965))

Photo of a man protesting outside a Planned Parenthood clinic in New Haven, Connecticut.

Photo: man protesting outside of Planned Parenthood clinic in New Haven, CT

The 60s decade in the 20th century America was a time of challenging law and challenging the importance of morality. It was a time of change, protest, and hope. The Griswold v. Connecticut case of 1965 was a landmark case, challenging Connecticut’s law of informative contraception.

Estelle Griswold was the Executive Director of the Planned Parenthood League of Connecticut, who gave a young married couple advice and information on contraception. Both she and her colleague, Dr. C. Lee Buxton, were charged and found guilty as accessories to illegally providing conception and were fined $100 each. The two took the case to the Supreme Court and challenged Connecticut’s law, arguing that it goes against the law of ‘right to marital privacy.’ With a trial the grand jury’s 7-2 voted Connecticut’s law invalid; Griswold and Buxton won their case.

Justice William O. Douglass of the Supreme Court found that Connecticut’s law could not prove it absolutely necessary to restrict the married couple’s rights of privacy. The married couple’s use of contraception constitutes a fundamental right, and it was Connecticut’s job to prove to the Court that its law was absolutely necessary to overcome that right, in order to win the case – which it failed to do.

This was the first case in which the fundamental idea of privacy became the center of conversation. It was here where we see law and legalities meddling into private laws with even married couples. According to Justice John Marshall Harlan II, this is only a fundamental idea because marriage and marital privacy has always been protected in American society (Harlan).

Dr. Buxton, a medical professional and professor at Yale Medical School, and Griswold were charged and arrested for providing information. Connecticut’s law at the time prohibited contraception, and so the two were convicted as being accessories to it. This went against the constitutionally protected law of right to marital privacy, and so the case was settled – birth control, from then on, could not be denied from married couples.

The 1965 case of Griswold v. Connecticut served as a model for future cases in reproductive rights. It inspired later decisions in cases such as Eisenstadt v. Baird, Roe v. Wade, Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, and several others in the United States.

“Since 1965, there has been a dramatic decline in unwanted births, the result of pregnancies that women wanted neither at the time they were conceived nor at any future time.” Thanks to the Griswold v. Connecticut case, the public began to realize the importance of privacy in reproductive rights within married couples. This justice grew outside of marital status in future cases to come.

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The Comstock Act – est. 1873

Photo: Anthony Comstock

The post-Civil War era was a time of emancipation, freedom, industry, and new inventions and ideas. One of those being the camera, and another being the newly popular form of pornography. This, along with increased uses of contraception, birthed the Comstock Act of 1873, when Anthony Comstock found these two ideas purely evil ones.

This Act in the United States took on a new degree and area of the ‘abortion problem’ across the country. This meant that now, men and women had less access to information regarding abortion and contraception. Before 1873 there was only discouragement of the abortion itself, but to discourage access to information alongside it took on a new dimension.

The Comstock Act itself prohibits the possession or mailing of ‘obscene’ materials, while at the same time it never defined exactly what was considered obscene. It was an attempt to regulate what had been networking throughout the U.S. Postal Service mailing route, by a 29-year-old man who had not been impressed by the latest that American society had to offer. As a U.S. Postal Service inspector, he felt that it as his job to regulate such.
Later in the Roth v. United States case in 1957, the term ‘obscene’ is more defined:
“Obscene material is material which deals with sex in a manner appealing to prurient interest – i.e., material having a tendency to excite lustful thoughts…
The standard for judging obscenity, adequate to withstand the charge of constitutional infirmity, is whether, to the average person, applying contemporary community standards, the dominant theme of the material, taken as a whole, appeals to prurient interest.” (Epstein and Walk, 346)
Anyone who was convicted of violating any of the Comstock laws would receive up to five years of imprisonment with hard labor and a fine of up to $2000.

The Comstock Act lived nearly 100 years until it was finally determined inapplicable to certain unlawful situations. However, still even today there are lingerings of it. Pornography continues to be limited in various ways. Contraception and abortion are far from becoming accepted and fully legalized across the country. We especially see problem and controversy in the abortion industry as of yet, and information regarding such topics still continues to be limited and restricted in certain areas of the nation.

It is not difficult to determine what the Comstock Act did to American society in the late 19th century. This not only put another level of law onto the abortion and contraception issue, but also struck fear and stressed ignorance among the public. Thousands of cases and violation of the Comstock Act sprouted throughout the decades until the Roe v. Wade case ruled it only applicable to ‘unlawful’ abortions in 1973.

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