Roe v. Wade turns 40 amid waning abortion access

Coat hanger with red circle with a line through it on top, indicating no coat hangers. Photo from Google Images.After years of litigation in the Roe v. Wade case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 7-2 in favor of Roe, legalizing abortion 40 years ago today.

The court extended the right to privacy clause in the 14th Amendment to a person’s choice to have an abortion; however, that right must be balanced with the state’s interest to protect prenatal life, according to the ruling.

A person may chose to have an abortion until the fetus is viable or “potentially able to live outside the mother’s womb, albeit with artificial aid,” according to the Roe v. Wade ruling. Medically, this is usually at about seven months or 28 weeks, but very few doctors perform abortions on people who are past the first trimester.

Before abortion was legalized in the United States, thousands of women died from complications resulting from botched back alley abortions. Currently, 60,000 to 80,000 people worldwide die each year from unsafe abortions, and 5 million more suffer permanent or temporary injury.

Several states — Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Dakota and South Dakota — enacted trigger laws to automatically criminalize abortion if Roe v. Wade is overturned. Other states did not repeal pre-1973 laws criminalizing abortion, which could be enforced if the decision is overturned.

California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Nevada and Washington have statutes legalizing abortion if Roe v. Wade is overturned.

Many states skirt the ruling by imposing limitations on access to abortions, such as requiring an ultrasound of the fetus or parental permission before performing the procedure for minors. 2011 was a banner year for these laws: State legislators introduced more than 1,100 reproductive health and rights-related provisions, a sharp increase from the 950 introduced in 2010. By year’s end, 135 of these provisions had been enacted in 36 states. 2012 had a similar outcome.

Women who attempted to have an abortion but were denied are three times as likely to fall into poverty than those whose efforts were not blocked, according to a 2012 study by researchers at University of California San Francisco.

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