What Happens if Roe v. Wade is Overturned

By Nupur Kudapkar 

The visual above has been provided by Planned Parenthood and the national access to abortion, click the link to use the map.  

Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973), was a landmark decision of the United States Supreme Court in which the Court decided that the Constitution of the United States protects a pregnant woman’s right to choose abortion without unreasonable government restrictions. The ruling invalidated numerous federal and state abortion regulations in the United States. Roe ignited a continuing abortion debate in the United States regarding whether or not abortion should be legal, who should decide the legality of abortion, and what role moral and religious beliefs should have in the political realm. It also influenced the dispute over which procedures the Supreme Court should employ in constitutional adjudication. The case included Norma McCorvey, well known by her legal alias “Jane Roe,” who fell pregnant with her third child in 1969. McCorvey desired an abortion but resided in Texas, where abortion was outlawed unless it was absolutely essential to save the mother’s life. Her attorneys, Sarah Weddington and Linda Coffee filed a case in federal court in the United States on her behalf against her local district attorney, Henry Wade, saying that Texas’ abortion restrictions were illegal. The case was considered by a three-judge panel of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas, which found in her favor. Texas subsequently filed a direct appeal with the United States Supreme Court. In January 1973, the Supreme Court ruled 7–2 in McCorvey’s favor, holding that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects a pregnant woman’s freedom to choose whether or not to have an abortion. However, it was also determined that this right is not absolute and must be weighed against governments’ interests in preserving women’s health and prenatal life. The Court resolved this balancing test by tying state regulation of abortion to the three trimesters of pregnancy: during the first trimester, governments could not prohibit abortions at all; during the second trimester, governments could require reasonable health regulations; and during the third trimester, abortions could be prohibited entirely so long as the laws included exceptions for cases where abortions were necessary to save the mother’s life or health. The right to choose abortion was deemed “fundamental” by the Court, requiring courts to analyze challenged abortion legislation using the “strict scrutiny” standard, the highest level of judicial review in the United States. Some in the legal world condemned the Court’s Roe decision, calling it an example of judicial activism. In its 1992 decision Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the Supreme Court reconsidered and amended Roe’s legal decisions. The Court upheld Roe’s decision that a woman’s right to choose abortion is constitutionally protected in Casey, but abandoned Roe’s trimester framework in favor of a fetal viability threshold and overturned the strict scrutiny method for considering abortion restrictions.

If Roe v. Wade was overturned abortion access would be constrained in many parts of the country. According to the report, every state now has at least one abortion facility, and most women reside within an hour’s drive of one. Without Roe, abortion would almost certainly be outlawed in 22 states. The nearest abortion facility would be close to 41% of women of reproductive age, and the average distance they would have to travel to get there would be 280 miles, up from 36 miles presently. According to studies, as distances between clinics expand, abortion rates decrease. Women who cannot afford to go to a legal clinic, arrange child care, or take time off work for the journey are disproportionately affected. Furthermore, surviving clinics may not be able to meet rising demand. This would lead to unsafe abortions, which would end the life of many women. Without Roe, the number of legal abortions in the United States would be at least 14 percent fewer. This may result in 100,000 fewer legal abortions every year. It is hard to anticipate the exact number since new clinics may operate across state lines, and some patients may acquire abortion pills by mail or have illegal surgical abortions, which might be deadly.