Back to the Future: Post-Roe World Would Look a Lot like Today's. (Cover Story)

By Feuerherd, Joe | National Catholic Reporter, January 17, 2003 | Go to article overview

Back to the Future: Post-Roe World Would Look a Lot like Today's. (Cover Story)


Feuerherd, Joe, National Catholic Reporter


For all of the debate and rancor over abortion during the past 30 years, advocates on both sides of the issue agree that little would practically change if Roe v. Wade were overturned.

Journalistic and political shorthand, as it has developed over the past 30 years, has made Roe v. Wade synonymous with the status of legal abortion in the United States.

In fact, on Jan. 22, 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court issued two opinions--Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton.

It started, in one sense, with 23-year-old Norma McCorvey, who came to the attention of Dallas attorneys Sarah Weddington and Linda Coffee in late 1969. McCorvey--out-of-work and pregnant, with a history of drug abuse and failed relationships--sought an abortion, then illegal under an 1854 Texas statute. An adoption lawyer referred McCorvey to Weddington and Coffee, who were seeking a plaintiff to challenge the Texas law. McCorvey agreed to be the plaintiff. She became "Jane Roe."

Meanwhile, similar efforts were underway in Georgia, where pro-choice attorneys sought to challenge that state's restrictive abortion law. Sandra Bensing, a low-income mother of three, separated from her husband, became "Mary Doe."

In October 1972, the Supreme Court heard arguments in the two cases; three months later the court released its opinions.

Writing for the court's 7-2 majorities, Nixon appointee Harry Blackmun laid out a system where the court tried to balance the privacy rights of a woman (which it located in the 14th Amendment) with the state's interest in protecting viable fetal life. Under Roe, the abortion decision would be the woman's alone for the first three months of pregnancy; in the second and third trimesters, the state's interests would expand, allowing progressively greater involvement as fetal viability increased. …

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