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1973 Roe v. Wade

The January 22, 1973, Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton decisions legalized abortion in the U.S. for the full nine months of pregnancy. Prior to Roe v Wade in 1967, abortion was prohibited in all 50 states except when the mother’s life was in danger.  Between 1967 and 1973, 18 states added further exceptions, mostly to allow abortion in cases of rape and incest, or for certain limited medical reasons, or on demand (New York).

In 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court rendered two decisions, Roe v. Wade 1 and Doe v. Bolton 2 which, taken together, allowed legal abortion on demand at any stage of pregnancy in all 50 states.  The two original Roe v Wade and Doe v. Bolton decisions established legal abortion as follows:

1.   In the first three months of pregnancy, no one can interfere with a woman’s decision to abort her child.

2. After the first three months, but before the “viability” of the unborn child, an individual state can enact laws to protect the health of the mother but cannot prohibit the abortion of the unborn child.

3. After “viability” of the unborn child, an individual state can, if it chooses to do so, enact laws to protect the unborn child but abortion must be allowed if the life or “health” of the mother is at stake.  The Supreme Court defined “health” as “the medical judgment that may be exercised in light of all factors – physical, emotional, psychological, familial, and the woman’s age – relevant to the well-being of the patient. All these factors may relate to health.” 2 Consequently, this broad definition of “health” made abortion legal up to the moment of birth in some states.

The two original decisions, Roe v Wade and Doe v. Bolton, were effectively the law of the land for 49 years, until the U.S. Supreme Court issued its overturn decision in 2022.

2022 Roe v. Wade Overturned

Over 63-million babies lost their lives to abortion between 1973 and 2022, while Roe v. Wade was in effect. During this time, many existing state laws which prohibited abortion were unenforceable. This was the case in Wisconsin, as state statute S.940.04, (which prohibits abortion), was rendered unenforceable by Roe v. Wade.

With the June 24, 2022 U.S. Supreme Court overturn of Roe v. Wade, (Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health) the power to outlaw or permit abortion was returned to the governing laws and/or legislatures of all 50 states. In Wisconsin, this meant that state statute S.940.04, (which prohibits abortion), was once again an active and enforceable state law.

The legality of abortion in the remaining 49 states varies considerably from state to state. In a number of states, so-called trigger laws had been passed which were intended to outlaw abortion if and when Roe v. Wade was overturned. Other, more abortion-friendly states rapidly set to work on passing or solidifying existing laws which permit abortion on demand. In many states, legal efforts are underway to challenge existing abortion-related laws.

  1. Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113
  2. Doe v. Bolton, 410 U.S. 179 (1973)
Roe v. Wade Overturned
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