Justice Harry A. Blackmun wrote the majority opinion in which Chief Justice Warren E. Burger and Justices William O. Douglas, William J. Brennan Jr., Potter Stewart, Thurgood Marshall and Lewis F. Powell Jr. joined.
Dissenting were Justices Byron R. White and William H. Rehnquist.
The majority rejected the idea that a fetus becomes a "person" upon conception and is thus entitled to the due process and equal protection guarantees of the Constitution. This view was pressed by opponents of liberalized abortion, including the Roman Catholic Church.
Justice Blackmun concluded that "the word 'person,' as used in the 14th Amendment, does not include the unborn," although states may acquire, "at some point in time" of pregnancy, an interest in the "potential human life" that the fetus represents, to permit regulation.
The justices, therefore, established an unusually detailed timetable for the relative legal rights of pregnant women and the states that would control their acts:
For the first three months of pregnancy the decision to have an abortion lies with the woman and her doctor; and the state's interest in her welfare is not "compelling" enough to warrant any interference.With the new Republican, anti-abortion majority in the House and among state governors, a new level of anxiety has returned to the abortion debate.
For the next six months of pregnancy a state may "regulate the abortion procedure in ways that are reasonably related to maternal health," such as licensing and regulating the persons and facilities involved.
For the last 10 weeks of pregnancy, the period during which the fetus is judged to be capable of surviving if born, any state may prohibit abortions if it wishes, except where they may be necessary to preserve the life or health of the mother.
In Florida and Kansas, legislators plan to reintroduce measures that were vetoed by previous governors but have the support of the new chief executives - like requiring a woman to view an ultrasound of the fetus before consenting to the abortion, curbing insurance coverage, and more stringent regulation of late-term abortions.
Although social issues were often played down in the campaigns, many of the newly elected governors and legislators are also solidly anti-abortion, causing advocates of abortion rights to brace for a year of even tougher battles than usual.
The biggest shift is in the state capitols, with 29 governors now considered to be solidly anti-abortion, compared with 21 last year. A spokesman for Naral Pro-Choice America said, “This is worrisome because the governors have been the firewall, they’ve vetoed a lot of bad anti-choice legislation.”
To my mind, pressing women to view ultrasounds before consenting to abortion is, perhaps, the worst of bad anti-choice legislation.
While several states encourage women seeking abortions to view an ultrasound, Oklahoma last year adopted what is, in my mind, a heinous, emotionally - manipulative requirement that doctors or technicians perform the procedure with the screen visible to the woman, and explain in detail what she is seeing.
The measure is under court challenge, but the Kentucky Senate has passed a similar bill, and variants are expected to come up in states including Indiana, Maryland, Montana, Ohio, Texas, Virginia and Wyoming.
Can you imagine requiring a technician or doctor who is performing a vasectomy to do so with a screen visible to the man, and explain in detail what he is seeing?
Or, requiring any person to view any surgical procedure while it is happening?
No, I can't either. And, why is that, you ask? Why require a woman to view an abortion on a screen in "real time" with a "play by play" of all the action?
Because, for many people, just as the Supreme Court in 1973 based its decision, this is all about the definition of 'person hood'. It's just not about the person hood of the pregnant woman, but only, singularly that of the "unborn child".
For some citizens, it would seem that the "potential for life" has more value than the actual life of the pregnant woman.
Centuries of biblically-sanctioned sexism and misogyny - to my mind, "the original sin in The Garden" - have roots and branches in the pro-choice / anit-abortion debate.
This is the social aspect of this legal issue that will, no doubt, get worse over the next two years, as conservatives seem more interested in "symbolic victories" like reading the Constitution on the Floor of the House and defeating the Health Care Reform Bill.
They are flexing their muscles, pumping up the testosterone and "sending a message" about who is really in control.
If they can't overturn Roe v. Wade, why, they'll just make the "little woman" have to watch the procedure on a screen while it's happening so she'll change her little mind - which, of course, is her prerogative. We'll just help her with her "pro choice" stance and help her choose the "right thing".
On one level, it's a pathetic display of machismo which should only be met with the ridicule and scorn it deserves.
On the other hand, we'd be very wise to brace ourselves for more attacks on women's rights in general and reproductive rights in particular.
The Guttmacher Institute reports that the abortion rate in the United States, which had declined steadily since a 1981 peak of more than 29 abortions per 1,000 women, stalled between 2005 and 2008, at slightly under 20 abortions per 1,000 women.
This is due, in part, to an increase in the use of early medication abortion, which uses a combination of two drugs in lieu of surgery. Early medication abortion has become an integral part of abortion care; 59% of all known abortion providers now offer this service.
I suspect that the medically-induced abortion rate will continue to increase sharply, which allows the new, heinous, emotionally manipulative requirements of surgical abortion to become a moot point.
Oh, of course, the attack will come from other venues - curbing insurance regulations so that the abortion medicine will be available but not compensated until health insurance policies. Meanwhile, Viagra and other medications for ED (Erectile Disfunction) will continue to be covered under most insurance policies.
Anybody else see a disconnect here?
Abortions have been with us since antiquity. They have only been legal in this country since 1973. Please God, they will continue to be safe and legal while we continue to work on the reasons women feel compelled to have an abortion in the first place:
Access to affordable, competent health care, including contraception services for women to prevent unintended pregnancies.Instead of putting our energies into ending abortion, doesn't it make more sense to work together to end the situations wherein women feel compelled to have an abortion?
Working to end poverty, hunger and homelessness, which has an even more profound effect on women and children, making them easier 'prey' for abusive, manipulative men who do not provide health care or child support for their dependent children.
Stricter enforcement on requiring child support by absent parents.
Providing education for young girls and access to opportunities for advanced learning, trades and higher education.
I know. I know. Mrs. Palin says that society is not responsible for the actions of one person. She was, of course, reciting the Reagan mantra as she saw it applied to the tragedy in Tuscon.
She has a right to that opinion. However, the reverse of that is also true. In other words, if a woman chooses to have an abortion, society does not have the right to judge her and the law has no right to restrict that choice.
Of geese and gander, and all that . . . .
I thank God that women have the choice - the legal option - about what happens with their bodies. I grieve when that choice includes terminating a pregnancy. I pray that all those who want to see a significant decrease in the abortion rate will work with me on decreasing the reasons women have abortions.
Jesus trusted women. So does the highest law of the land.
After 38 years, it's high time we all did.