FOCUS: A short historical timeline of Roe v. Wade, pivotal abortion-related cases and U.S. Supreme Court rulings over the decades

On Jan. 22, 1973, a pregnant and unmarried woman, pseudonymous plaintiff Jane Roe challenged the constitutionality of Texas’ laws that banned abortions, with the exception being medical advice for the purpose of saving the mother’s life. Filing a lawsuit against Henry Wade, Roe claimed that Texas’ laws were unconstitutional, vague and breached her privacy rights. SCOTUS issued a 7-2 decision in favor of Roe, upholding that women have a right to abortion under the 14th Amendment. The court decision also established a trimester-framework. During the first trimester of pregnancy, the pregnant woman and her physician would make the decision to abort. In the second trimester, the state could regulate the decision to abort under the interests of maternal health. In the final trimester, when the fetus reaches a point of viability, a state could regulate or prohibit abortions in the interest of a potential life, with exceptions when abortion was necessary for the health of the mother. Roe v. Wade opened the door for reproductive freedom and established precedent for future court cases.

On June 29, 1993, the Supreme Court ruled on the case of Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey in a 5-4 decision. With Roe v. Wade as precedent, the case amended Pennsylvania’s Abortion Control Act, adding five new provisions: required consent of the woman, 24-hour waiting period before the procedure to provide women information, parental consent for minors and notifying a woman’s husband of a planned abortion. Most notably, this decision established a new standard for determining the validity of laws restricting abortion. The criteria was that a regulation on abortion had to have the purpose or effect of placing a substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion before the fetus obtains viability. Under this standard, many abortion restrictions have been upheld, the only provision to fail being informing a woman’s husband of a planned abortion. Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey reaffirmed the core value of the right to abortion, while giving states more leeway in passing laws restricting abortion care and access.

On Dec. 1, 2021, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization was overseen by SCOTUS. The case dealt with a Mississippi law called the Gestational Age Act, which banned abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy; upholding the ban meant overturning Roe v. Wade. Jackson Women’s Health Organization was the last remaining licensed abortion clinic in the state of Mississippi. In a divided opinion, on June 24, 2022, the conservative majority upheld the Mississippi law, overturning its decisions in Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey. The decision was expected to lead to abortion bans for half of the nation.

The debate over reproductive autonomy for women is still ongoing. Limitations on abortion have been left up to the states to decide. So far at least 13 states have banned the majority of abortions, and numerous states have gestational limits. According to Guttmacher Institute, a research organization focused on reproductive health and rights, states including California, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York and Oregon committed over $250 million to abortion care funding in 2022. Similarly, 14 states adopted protections to shield abortion care providers and patients who travel across state lines to access abortions. With the state legislatures, courts and voters decisions on abortion bans, the turmoil fostered by the overturning of Roe v. Wade will continue throughout 2023.