Roe v. Wade, the case overruled by US Supreme Court after 50 years | EXPLAINED

In a verdict that is likely to have large scale ramifications across the United States of America, the US Supreme Court in a 6:3 ruling on Friday overturned the 1973 landmark decision of Roe v. Wade on the issue of abortion. Almost fifty years, after an American woman’s constitutional right to abortion was recognised, the Supreme Court has effectively eliminated the right altogether, allowing states to enforce ban on abortions.


Two Texas-based attorneys, Sarah Weddington and Linda Coffee, were dealing with several cases regarding abortion litigation in the US during the 1970s. During the course of their cases, they decided to file a suit stating that abortions were medically necessary for women. What they needed was a plaintiff who would help them make a valid case before the court. Their first plaintiff was a married couple who agreed to come on board, but in this, the woman was not pregnant.

In June 1969, they met 21-year-old Norma McCorvey, who was then pregnant with her third child. She eventually became their lead plaintiff in the case even though she wasn’t able to get an abortion on time and did not attend any of the oral arguments.

33 years later, at the age of 55, she filed an affidavit in a district Court in Texas saying that she got involved in the case ‘without fully understanding its ramifications’. When she met Weddington and Coffee for the first time, they asked her “Norma, don’t you think that abortion should be legal?”

In her affidavit, she said, “Unsure, I responded that I did not know. In fact, I did not know what the term abortion really even meant”.

The lawyers reportedly told her that they had met two or three other women but they didn’t fit their criteria. She asked them what made her fit the criteria, they replied “You’re white, you’re young, pregnant and you want an abortion”.

The law suit was filed in the District Court in Texas in 1970 on behalf of McCorvey, under the pseudonym ‘Jane Roe’. The defendant was the County’s District Attorney, Henry Wade. In June 1970, the Court ruled in favour of Jane Roe and stated that the law against abortion in Texas violated the right to privacy but did not grant an injunction which would allow McCorvey to get an abortion.


An appeal was filed in the Supreme Court later in 1970 and in January 1973, in a 7:2 decision, the US Supreme Court held that women in the United States had the right to choose whether they wanted to get an abortion or not. The ruling that came in favour of Jane Roe extensively spoke against excessive government control and restrictions and upheld the individual’s right to life and liberty. The decision was written by Justice Harry Blackmun. The judgment relied heavily upon an earlier judgment from 1965 which had struck down a ban on contraceptives imposed by the State and upheld the liberty of married couples to use contraceptives without governmental restrictions.


The US Supreme Court now, in a 6:3 judgment, overturned Roe v Wade in a case called ‘Planned Parenthood v Casey’, stating that the Constitution makes no reference to abortion and no such right is implicitly protected by any constitutional provision.

The majority opinion has been drafted by Justice Samuel Alito who is joined by Justices Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote a separate but concurring opinion. Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan dissented.

Merely minutes after the ruling, states across America began imposing a ban on abortions and more states are expected to follow suit in the coming days. Reports suggest that roughly half the states in the US are expected to be impacted. Last month, a draft opinion of the judgment was leaked which had indicated that such a ruling may come through from the top court.

Abortion rights activists across the country have criticised the judgment and raised serious concerns about its impact. US President Joe Biden, who addressed the nation soon after the decision was pronounced, called it a ‘sad day for the country’.

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