According to a US media source, the US Supreme Court has decided to overturn Roe v. Wade, the court’s historic 1973 decision that made abortion a constitutional right. In this context, the US President urged US voters recently to safeguard their “fundamental” rights to legal abortion.


What is the Roe v. Wade case, 1973?

  • It was a landmark decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in which the Court ruled that the Constitution of the U.S. protects a pregnant woman’s liberty to choose to have an abortion without excessive government restriction.
  • It struck down laws that made abortion illegal in several states, and ruled that abortion would be legal up to the trimester. 
  • It fuelled an ongoing abortion debate in the U.S. about whether or to what extent abortion should be legal, who should decide the legality of abortion and what the role of moral and religious views in the political sphere should be.
  • The Court’s ruling was criticised by some in the legal community and some called the decision an example of judicial activism.


Planned Parenthood v. Casey case, 1992

  • In this case, the Supreme Court revisited and modified its rulings in Roe v. Wade judgement.
  • The Court reaffirmed that a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion is constitutionally protected.
  • However, it rejected Roe’s trimester framework in favour of a foetal viability (the time after which a foetus can survive outside the womb) threshold and overruled the strict scrutiny criteria for considering abortion restrictions.


Confusion over foetal viability threshold

  • Foetal viability was around 28 weeks (7 months) at the time of the Roe judgement. Experts now agree that advances in medicine have brought the threshold down to 23 or 24 weeks (6 months or a little less).
  • In 2018, the state of Mississippi (the Republican-majority legislature) prohibited most abortions after 15 weeks, considerably earlier than foetal viability (citing the heartbeat law – i.e. the heartbeat starts around 15 weeks) and earlier than Roe, initiating a direct challenge to the 1973 decision.


Significance of above judgements

They recognised the concept of personal liberty as enshrined in the Fourteenth Amendment against government interference with intensely personal decisions.


Social and ideological clash over the issue of abortion

However, the issue has resulted in a social and ideological struggle (between Democrats [pro-abortion] and Republicans [conservative, anti-abortion]), further polarising the country’s already polarised society and politics.