Category Archives: Women

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.

Sources:

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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/

Sources:

Margaret Sanger & the 1920s Birth Control Movement

Photo: Margaret Sanger

In 1921, Margaret Sanger founded the American Birth Control League, now known as Planned Parenthood Federation of America. She is also known as the founder of modern day birth control and lead several roles in the 1920’s Birth Control and Reproductive Rights Movements.

The American Birth Control League held the following main principles:

We hold that children should be:

  1. Conceived in love;
  2. Born the mother’s conscious desire;
  3. And only begotten under conditions which render possible the heritage of health

Therefore we hold that every woman must possess the power and freedom to prevent conception except when these conditions can be satisfied.

This notable woman sacrificed a lot to stand up for women and what she believed in. In 1913 she wrote a column on sexual education in the local newspaper titled What Every Mother Should Know and What Every Girl Should Know, considered both an advice and informative column. Because of the Comstock laws established in 1873, she was jailed for her writings and beliefs and the story went viral, as did her popularity.

Considering the 1920s as a time of economic growth and success, there also laid the fact that the country had just recently came out of World War I. While the nation was still in the process of healing from war, there was a great amount of disapproval for many women’s rights movements in these years. Although Sanger and many other reproductive and women’s rights activists faced that amount of scorn, it was their famous courage and ambition that kept them and their supporters moving forward.

Sanger had her own beliefs and views about abortion in America that can be a bit complex. While she acknowledged it justifiable in certain cases, she also believed it should be a last resort and should be avoided as much as possible. Her main views and legacy at the time were directed towards contraception, not so much abortion. In one of her books Women and the New Race, she wrote, “while there are cases where even the law recognizes an abortion as justifiable if recommended by a physician, I assert that the hundreds of thousands of abortions performed in America each year are a disgrace to civilization.” (Sanger)

And so although her view on abortion varied by situation, her push for the importance of contraception and sexual health gave birth to future reproductive justice ideas. Although the nation had just come out of the first Great War, she continued to advocate for women, contraception, and the rights of knowledge regarding the subject.

Sources:

  • “Birth control: What it is, How it works, What it will do”, The Proceedings of the First American Birth Control Conference, November 11, 12, 1921, pp. 207–8.
  • Margaret Sanger (1920). “Contraceptives or Abortion?”. Woman and the New Race.
    http://www.bartleby.com/1013/10.html

The First U.S. Abortion Law – est. 1821

This is not to say that the abortion controversy in America begins in the 1800’s – it has been a concept throughout the ancient times. While trying to understand abortion how it is in today’s American society, one must look further into the past and where the first laws began. Looking at the legal aspect in the United States, it is known that the first legal restriction was put into force in the state of Connecticut in the year 1821. A rather liberal state even in modern times…why? What was happening?

This law enforced in 1821 prevented women from attempting and/or committing inductive abortion through poison after “quickening,” occurring usually during the fourth month of pregnancy. However, this law only applied in cases “when a woman died or suffered grievous harm through the abortionist’s recklessness or negligence,” (Ramsey, Abele vs Markel Records).

Around the time of the 1800’s, unwanted pregnancies began occurring more and more often than they had previously. These first abortion laws were originally made to protect women from ill-trained abortionists, as records indicated the increased mortality rate caused by abortion complications – both legal and illegal. After Connecticut’s law restricting abortion, other states followed. By the end of the 19th century, 49 of the 50 United States legislated the process of abortion (excluding Kentucky, passing the law in 1910).

Other reasons for these abortion restrictions can be assumed through America’s records of declining birthrates, other medical records, etc. The birth of abortion laws and restrictions could also be tied with doctors’ struggles to monopolize this process, while irregular/non-physician practitioners were their key sources. There is also the assumption of the role of women during this century. The older-fashioned society of this period lied in the patriarchal realm, and any notice of infidelity and/or sex before marriage was not taken as lightly in any part region of 19th Century America.

We note this first law and restriction from the 1821 state of Connecticut, and we are now able to put that into perspective. We see how other states quickly followed in a domino effect, like Missouri 4 years later and then Illinois in the year 1827. The factors and reasoning for abortion laws in every individual state may be differ in some ways, in yet they all had the similar ideas in mind. Though the controversy and struggles of abortion occurred much before America’s independence in 1776, the year 1821 is when the government and legislation came into the picture. It is the starting point of where this blog examines abortion laws in the United States – acts that determine the law, and the law that effects certain acts.

Sources Used:

“First Fetal Movement: Quickening | American Pregnancy on Quickening.” American Pregnancy Association. American Pregnancy Association, July 2007. Web. 07 Oct. 2014.

<a href=”http://law.jrank.org/pages/446/Abortion-Abortion-in-American-law-nineteenth-century.html”>Abortion – Abortion In American Law: The Nineteenth Century</a>

Ramsey, Allen. “RG 009:006, Abele vs. Markle Inventory of Records.” RG 009:006, Abele vs. Markle Inventory of Records. Connecticut State Library, 1991. Web. 08 Oct. 2014.