Roe v. Wade

(1973)

Abortion, or the deliberate termination of an unwanted pregnancy, has been part of human society since ancient times. In the Victorian era of the nineteenth century, it became one of Western society’s most contentious issues, sparking bitter religious and ethical debates that have continued into the twenty-first century. In 1973 the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade (1973), written by Justice Harry Blackmun, for the first time established abortion as a fundamental right guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution, albeit with some qualifications. Regardless, Roe v. Wade brought a virtual end to illegal, unsanitary “back-alley” abortions and, in broader terms, established new parameters for the concept of a constitutional right to privacy.

Far from settling the debate on abortion, however, Roe v. Wade further stoked Americans' passions over the issue. In the ensuing years, legal battles continued to swirl around the topic of abortion rights, and changes to the composition...

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Harry Blackmun (Library of Congress)

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