Return to my Issues and Opinions pages
Go to my home page
© Copyright 2002, Jim Loy
I recently listened to a cassette tape of the oral arguments of Roe v. Wade. Jane Roe (later identified as Norma McCorvey) sued the Attorney General of the state of Texas, to allow her an abortion. She originally claimed that the pregnancy was the result of a gang rape, but later admitted that it was the result of a failed relationship. Before the case made it to the U. S. Supreme Court, she had the baby. The case was argued before the Supreme Court in 1971, reargued in 1972, and decided in 1973.
Upon questioning by the judges, it became apparent that Ms. Roe's attorneys and their scientific and medical advisors did not have any firm idea when human life begins (when does the fetus become human?). The defence claimed that human life begins at conception (when the egg becomes fertilized). Justice Blackmun (who had once served as counsel for the Mayo Clinic) was skeptical of this. One of the defence's arguments was that the case was now moot, as Ms. Roe was no longer pregnant, an argument which the Court strongly rejected. In the end, Ms. Roe won her right to an abortion, by a vote of 7 to 2 (White and Rehnquist dissenting), with Blackmun writing the opinion for the Court. Douglas, Stewart, and Burger wrote concurring opinions. The case is the main one making abortions legal in the USA.
Justice Blackmun's opinion established (somewhat arbitrarily) a three trimester theory. The pregnancy is divided into three trimesters of roughly three months each. In the first trimester, the woman has the unrestricted right to an abortion. In the second trimester, she can have an abortion if medical authorities recommend it to protect her health. In the third trimester, the state can restrict abortions, but must permit an abortion to save the life of the mother.
Return to my Issues & Opinions pages
Go to my home page