Highlights

  • 1970: Jane Roe sues Dallas district attorney over abortion laws
  • 1972: US top court said woman has the right to decide on her pregnancy
  • SC: right to privacy with regard to pregnancy not abolsute

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Explained: Why 'Roe vs Wade' judgement is an important turning point in US abortion laws

Pro-life vs Pro-choice. It's a debate that has been a part of US society for decades. It's features prominently in all presidential polls.

Pro-life vs Pro-choice. It's a debate that has been a part of US society for decades. It's features prominently in all presidential polls. A candidate's stand on whether abortion is a right or it is immoral could swing a lot of votes.

US is a federal country, so all its states have the right to form their own laws but in January 1973, the country's Supreme Court ruled on the woman's right to abortion in the 'Roe vs Wade' case that had huge ramification on federal laws.

In 1970, Jane Roe, a false identity for single mother Norma McCorvey, sued Dallas district attorney Henry Wade over Texas' abortion laws. Roe was pregnant for the third time and wanted to terminate the pregnancy but Texas laws made abortion criminal except in cases of rape, incest or when mother's life was in danger.

In January 1972, The Supreme Court of the United States overturned the Texas laws and ruled that 'the right of privacy is broad enough to encompass a woman's decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy.'

It ruled that to exempt only a lifesaving procedure on behalf of the mother from criminality with regard to pregnancy stage or without recognises other interests violates the 14th amendment or the civil rights granted by the country's Constitution.

However, the US top court put in a rider. It said that the right to privacy with regard to pregancy 'is not abolsute and is subject to some limitations.' It added that 'at some point the state interests as to protection of health, medical standards and prenatal life become dominant'.

The Supreme Court effectively allowed abortions before a foetus would be viable outside the womb, that is between 24 and 28 weeks of pregnancy.

The Roe vs Wade judgment has faced several challenges since. The latest one being from the state of Missisipi. In 2018, the state banned most abortion after 15 weeks, much before foetal viability and sooner then allowed by the Roe judgement. A year later, the state went ahead and banned abortions once foetal heartbeat could be heard, which is 6 weeks.

The challenge to the Mississipi law has now reached the Supreme Court and there are fears that the country’s top court which now has a conservative majority will not uphold its previous judgement and overturn a woman’s right over her body.

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