Today in history: 45 years later, debate over Roe v. Wade continues

On Jan. 22, 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a 7-2 decision affirming the legality of a woman's right to have an abortion under the due process clause of the 14th Amendment. Forty-five years later, a nationwide debate over abortion rights continues to divide citizens and politicians alike.

Section 1 of the 14th Amendment reads:

"All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."

Click here to read the full text opinions from the Supreme Court Justices.

Summary of the case 

In June 1969, 21-year-old Norma McCorvey, became pregnant and was advised to falsely assert that she had been raped to legally obtain an abortion under Texas law. McCorvey's attempt was unsuccessful, and she later admitted the situation was a fabrication. McCorvey then tried to obtain an illegal abortion, but found that an unauthorized facility had been recently closed down by the police.

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After giving birth to the child and putting the child up for adoption, McCorvey's Lawyers filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas on behalf of their client (under an alias of Jane Roe). Dallas County District Attorney Henry Wade, who represented the state of Texas, was the defendant in the case.

Wade served as district attorney from 1951 to 1987, and had enforced a law that prohibited abortion, except to save a woman's life. That law had previously been declared unconstitutional in the 1971 case of United States v. Vuitch. Wade had ignorned that decision and both sides involved appealed.

Roe v. Wade reached the nation's highest court on appeal in 1971, and on Jan. 22, 1973, the Supreme Court issued a 7-2 majority vote in favor of Roe. The decision subjected all laws attempting to restrict abortion to the standard of strict scrutiny, and deemed abortion a fundamental right under the U.S.Constitution. However, abortion may be regulated by individual states in the form of:

  • Restricting late-term abortions,
  • Requiring parental approval for minors,
  • Requiring the disclosure of abortion risk information prior to the procedure.

Abortion Laws in Washington State 

Washington state already has laws in places that protects reproductive health rights; voters passed an initiative in 1991 that would keep protections in place for women in the event that Roe v. Wade is overturned.

Two sections of the Revised Code of Washington (RCW), 9.02.100 and 9.02.110, read:

Reproductive privacy—Public policy.

The sovereign people hereby declare that every individual possesses a fundamental right of privacy with respect to personal reproductive decisions.

Accordingly, it is the public policy of the state of Washington that:
(1) Every individual has the fundamental right to choose or refuse birth control;
(2) Every woman has the fundamental right to choose or refuse to have an abortion, except as specifically limited by RCW 9.02.100 through 9.02.170 and 9.02.900 through 9.02.902;
(3) Except as specifically permitted by RCW 9.02.100 through 9.02.170 and 9.02.900 through 9.02.902, the state shall not deny or interfere with a woman's fundamental right to choose or refuse to have an abortion; and
(4) The state shall not discriminate against the exercise of these rights in the regulation or provision of benefits, facilities, services, or information.
[1992 c 1 § 1 (Initiative Measure No. 120, approved November 5, 1991).]

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Right to have and provide.

The state may not deny or interfere with a woman's right to choose to have an abortion prior to viability of the fetus, or to protect her life or health.

A physician may terminate and a health care provider may assist a physician in terminating a pregnancy as permitted by this section.

[1992 c 1 § 2 (Initiative Measure No. 120, approved November 5, 1991).]​

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