In 1971, a pregnant single lady with the pseudonym Jane Roe filed a lawsuit challenging Texas abortion law. She filed the suit on behalf of herself and others against Henry Wade, the district attorney of Dallas County, Texas.
At the time, it was illegal to attempt or get an abortion unless done to save the mother’s life.
A licensed doctor, Dr Halford, who had been arrested twice for violating the law, was permitted to join Roe’s lawsuit with the claims that the existing abortion laws were too vague for doctors to follow.
Each party in Roe v. Wade brought different arguments before the Supreme Court of the United States. Their major arguments are outlined below.
Roe’s Argument (Pro-Choice)
Jane Roe and the others involved in the suit based their case on the following:
- Roe claimed that the right to an abortion is absolute — a mother is entitled to absolutely any decision taken regarding her pregnancy. She has a right to end it whenever and however she chooses.
- The Texas law infringed on a person’s right to privacy (marital, familial or sexual) as guaranteed by the Bill of Rights.
- The Texas law invaded a person’s right to liberty under the 14th amendment to the United States Constitution.
Wade’s Argument (Pro-Life)
Texas state defended the abortion statute before the Supreme Court with the following arguments:
- A foetus is a ‘person’ protected by the 14th amendment to the United States Constitution.
- States have an interest in safeguarding health, maintaining medical standards, and protecting prenatal life.
- It is of utmost interest to the state that prenatal life is protected from inception.
It can be observed that both arguments stemmed from the same right (same source) hence, the reason the argument swings left and right.
The Supreme Court’s Decision
After several hearings and trials, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of Roe on the 22nd of January, 1973, that the constitution of the United States generally protects a pregnant woman’s liberty to choose to have an abortion.
The Supreme Court issued a 7–2 decision that the Due Process Clause of the 14th amendment to the United States Constitution (“…nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty or property, without due process of law’) protects a woman’s right to abortion.
Albeit, the court tried to balance the state’s interest with privacy rights by regulating abortions within the pregnant person’s trimester.
Through the years, with cases like Planned Parenthood v. Cassey (1992), Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellorstedt (2016) and June Medical Services v. Gee, abortion rulings have gradually been adjusted. After almost 50 years, Roe v. Wade was overturned on the 24th of June, 2022 after the Supreme Court’s decision on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health.
Significance of Roe v. Wade
Roe v. Wade is one of the most famous and controversial Supreme court cases of all time.
Contrary to popular opinion, Roe v. Wade was not the case that legalized abortion. Instead, until upturned, it validated the constitutional right of the woman to make an informed decision about her body and her life. It also recognizes as invasion, legislation which purported to restrict and control the fundamental right to choose.
Right to Abortion in Nigeria
Like the rest of the world, abortion is a very controversial topic in Nigeria. Nigeria is one of the most restrictive countries regarding abortion. Abortions are illegal in Nigeria. There are two different location-dependent laws governing abortion in Nigeria.
The Criminal Code operates in Southern Nigeria. Sections 228, 229, and 230 of the Criminal Code consider getting or aiding abortions a felony with jail terms of up to 14 years.
The Penal Code governs Northern Nigeria. The Penal Code is very similar to the Criminal Code, except that it allows abortions with the sole purpose of saving the life of the mother.
However, in 2011, the Lagos State House of Assembly updated the Criminal Code, providing for abortion to save and protect the life and physical health of the mother.
Despite the legal restrictions in Nigeria, abortions are still ubiquitous — though predominately unsafe. These unsafe abortions contribute to Nigeria’s high maternity death rate.
Considering both sides of abortion arguments (pro-life or pro-choice), it is safe to conclude that abortion will always be controversial.
While the pro-life argument mostly stems from moral and religious views and also the belief that life begins at conception, the pro-choice argument considers the lack of access to safe abortion care as an infringement of women’s rights.
No matter how we look at it, no exact abortion laws can satisfy everyone’s views.
Laura Temme, Esq. “Roe v. Wade Case Summary: What You Need to Know” Supreme.findlaw.com (2022)