Roe v. Wade was one of the most controversial court cases in the history of the Supreme Court. Unlike the landmark cases which ruled segregation as unconstitutional, gave women the right to vote, and allowed couples of different races to be married, the controversy surrounding abortion 50 years later remains strong. Many pro-choice arguments begin and end with the statement that abortion is legal, and therefore, the argument should be settled. However, when examining the deciding factors in Roe v. Wade, it is easy to poke holes in the case which legalized abortion throughout the United States.
Dating back to the early American colonies, abortion was a confusing issue, most likely because it was difficult to confirm pregnancy during this time. The laws were somewhat vague, but did ban abortion after “quickening,” or movement of the fetus was detected. However, it was nearly impossible for the courts to rule on whether or not a woman felt movement prior to the abortion. After this stage abortion was a crime, but not punished as severely as other types of murder. Even religious organizations believed that a soul was not present in the fetus until later stages of pregnancy.
As scientists began to suspect human life began long before quickening, termination of pregnancy was banned in the early 1900s.
Even without modern technology, scientists were well aware individual human life began at conception. In 1839, it was discovered by Theodor Schwann and Matthias Schleiden that embryos develop from a single-celled zygote. Following the rise of cell theory and the advancement of knowledge on human development, the American Medical Association published a strong anti-abortion stance in the late 1850s. Their editorials stated zygotes were independent from the mother following fertilization and prior to implantation.
Early ultrasound technology was invented in the late 1700s and was used in the biology field. However, it did not become available in the clinical setting until it was perfected by European obstetrician Ian Donald and engineer Tom Brown in the 1950s. This technology did not make it to the United States until the 1970s. When Roe v. Wade was decided, women viewing their preborn children in the womb was not a common practice in America. Dr Bernard Nathanson, a former abortionist and directer of the Center for Reproductive and Sexual Health, became a pro-life advocate after medical technology such as ultrasounds became increasingly available.
In stark contrast to embryologist findings that life begins at conception, the late 1960s brought about the decriminalization of the abortion procedure in cases of rape, incest, and upon request of the women. As more and more states began to legalize abortion, activists pushed harder to expand abortion access to every state. Planned Parenthood argued that in the years prior to Roe v. Wade, thousands of women were dying because of back alley abortions and were in desperate search of anyone who would help them end their pregnancies.
In 1969, the debate intensified when a 22 year old pregnant woman, Norma McCorvey, was encouraged by attorneys Sarah Weddington and Linda Coffee to file a lawsuit against her Texas district due to the unconstitionality of its anti-abortion law. She requested an injuction so that she may go through with the abortion while the case was being made. The injunction was denied, and she eventually placed her baby for adoption. Despite placing her child in a loving home, McCorvey pressed onward in the fight to expand abortion rights to women across the country. The attorneys who represented her gave her the name Jane Roe. Arguments began in December of 1971, a year after the case was filed. The defendant, Henry Wade, the DA who denied McCorvey the injunction, was represented by attorneys John Tolle, Jay Floyd, and Robert Flowers.
However, years after the ruling, plantiff Norma McCorvey denouced her abortion stance and filmed a documentary called “A Cold Day In Hell” about her life. McCorvey went on to say her lawyers, Weddington and Coffee, lied about the alleged gang rape by a group of black men, which was used to propetuate Roe’s pro-abortion agenda. Norma McCorvey become one of the loudest pro-life adovates after the ruling until she died in 2017.
As the arguments and controversy continued to escalate, pro-abortion activists vehemently fought for legal abortion. They stated the only way to keep women safe was to make abortion legal across the United States, with little to no restrictions. Roe’s lawyers claimed that upwards of thousands of women died in illegal abortions prior to the legalization by the Supreme Court in 1973. However, Dr. Nathanson admits the statistic claiming 5,000 to 10,000 women died before 1973, was completely false and only used as a scare tactictic to legalize abortion.
The year before the ruling, 1972, the Center for Disease Control had reported only 70 deaths from abortion, both legal and illegal, and 612 total maternal deaths, as opposed to the 2,000 estimated by pro-abortion activists to come form illegal abortions alone.
The exaggeration of these numbers was done to scare politicians and the general public into acceptancing and legalizing the abortion. The decision of Roe v. Wade was supposed to allow access to safe procedures to keep women from dying.
Nearly 50 years after the decision, the CDC reported 400 women have died from these “safe and legal” abortions. Unfortunately, the real numbers are believed to be much higher, as there are no federal laws requiring the reporting of abortions and their complications. Despite the recklessness of abortionists within these facilities and the deplorable standards within many abortion clinics, politicians continue to pass laws which disregard basic health and safety standards.
Those who defended Roe argued abortion was a fundamental right found in the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution. America's founding fathers did acknowledge the importance of privacy. They also knew some rights took precedence over others.
They acknowledged free speech may be regulated if it called for specific acts of violence against another individual. The privacy of one’s property can also be overlooked if a warrant is approved or someone is in immediate danger. While privacy is recognized as being important, it is not an adequate justification for killing an innocent human being.
To justify this ruling, the Fourteenth Amendment has been contorted into a tool claiming abortion as a constitutional right. It assures life, liberty, and property as God-given rights, which protect the people from deprivation of these things by state and federal government. This amendment in no way was meant to protect a woman’s right to kill her preborn child if she found he/she inconvenient.
During the initial arguments, Wade argued the Fourteenth Amendment did not indicate abortion was a constitutional right, but instead protects the preborn. This amendment protected the life and liberty of the preborn child due to the fact that science confirms human life begins at conception. The Supreme Court rejected this idea during the hearings. Justice Harry Blackmun stated there was no case for fetal personhood within the Fourteenth Amendment. A false dichotomy was made between being a human and being a person. The Court claimed preborn humans were not persons. Therefore, the courts decided a women had a legal right to abortion, thus nullifying the preborn’s right to life. However, prior court cases recognized the personhood and rights of the prebon. For example, at the time of a father or grandfather’s death, a preborn boy would have the same inheritance rights as his born brothers or sisters. In Hall v. Hancock and Thellusson v. Woodford, the courts decided there was no reason a preborn child would not have the same rights as everyone else.
Justice Blackmun argued there was a lack of consensus on when life began. In reality, scientists knew life began at conception decades prior to the Supreme Court ruling. A fetus possesses all seven of the characteristics used to define life. Tragically, in the winter of 1973, they were denied their right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness by the same federal courts designed to protect those very things.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Human Defense Initiative.