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Understanding Roe v. Wade and Your Rights

Understanding Roe v. Wade and Your Rights

For the last few years, a Supreme Court case from the 1970s has re-emerged as a topic of discussion and it seems as if it will continue to be debated and possibly even brought to court again in the next few years. But how much do we really know about Roe v. Wade and what it means? Understanding the court case, and how it changed women’s health issues, is crucial to understanding the debate today.

Prior to the 1973 Supreme Court ruling on Roe v. Wade, a legal abortion was incredibly difficult to obtain in the United States. In only four states (Washington, Alaska, Hawaii, and New York) was abortion fully legal. In 16 other states, abortion was restricted to certain situations. But in 30 states, abortion was completely illegal (see map below). Many of the 16 states that allowed abortion in certain cases had only recently moved away from prohibiting abortion entirely.

Map of US abortion laws pre-1973


Many people think Roe v. Wade “made abortion legal,” but this is not correct. The 1973 Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade ruled that a state law that banned abortions except to protect the life of the mother was unconstitutional. The court ruled that the law violated Jane Roe’s constitutional right to privacy and in doing so violated her First, Fourth, Ninth, and Fourteenth constitutional amendment rights.

However, the Court did not rule that the states could not regulate abortion. Here are the guidelines the Supreme Court laid out in Roe v. Wade:

  • States may not outlaw or regulate any aspect of first trimester abortions.
  • States may regulate abortion with considerations for the mother’s health in the second and third trimesters.
  • States may only forbid abortion in order to protect the life of the fetus during the third trimester. But, an exception had to be made for cases in which the mother’s life was in danger.


What does this mean?

As you can see, Roe v. Wade did not completely legalize abortion – far from it, in fact. Over the last four and a half decades, states have implemented many different regulations on abortion and, at the current time, the law is different in nearly every state. Furthermore, while abortion restrictions from the early 1970s centered on the health of the mother, the health of the fetus, and whether the fetus was the product of rape or incest, current restrictive legislation considers many other factors, including the following:

  • Notification of one or both parents (for minors seeking abortions)
  • Mandatory waiting periods
  • Whether or not it is mandatory to show ultrasound pictures to a woman who wants an abortion
  • Whether or not counseling is required
  • When an abortion can be performed
  • The type of facilities that can provide abortions
  • Method by which the abortion is performed
  • Restricting insurance coverage of abortion

Some people favor “reversing” Roe v. Wade. If that happened, states could place any restrictions on abortion they chose to, including completely outlawing abortion. On the other side of the argument, some people feel Roe v. Wade didn’t go far enough in protecting the privacy and the rights of women. The reality is that the vast majority of Americans fall somewhere between wanting to completely ban abortion and wanting no regulations on abortions at all. It is, if nothing else, a complex and explosive topic that many people, on all parts of the spectrum, feel passionately about.


State By StatE

For those of us here in Illinois, there are relatively few restrictions on abortions. After viability, abortion is only allowed when the mother’s life is in danger and two physicians must be present. Insurance companies may refuse to pay for abortions and parents of minors must be notified before their child can receive an abortion.1 In 2011, there were 37 abortion providers in Illinois, which is approximately the average number of abortion provider locations per state in the United States.2

And while Texas has recently been in the news for its restrictive abortion policies, our neighbor to the east, Indiana, also has some of the most restrictive abortion policies in the nation. Here are some of the abortion restrictions currently in place in Indiana:

  • Abortions must be performed by a licensed physician, and must be performed at a hospital after 20 weeks
  • Abortions after 20 weeks are only allowed when the mother’s health is in danger.
  • “Partial-birth” abortions are banned.
  • Women seeking an abortion are required to be told about fetal pain during abortion.
  • Women seeking an abortion must wait for a minimum of 18 hours after counseling before receiving an abortion.
  • Parents must give consent before minors are able to receive an abortion.

Furthermore, the specific restrictions on who can provide abortions and where have made it difficult for most doctors to provide abortions at all in Indiana. Right now, only four physicians provide abortions for the entire state of Indiana.3

It’s no surprise given the difference between abortion regulations in Indiana and Illinois that abortion clinics in Illinois are reporting a substantial portion of women seeking abortions are from Indiana, as well as other restrictive states like Missouri and Wisconsin.

The difference between abortion laws in Illinois and Indiana demonstrates one fact more clearly than anything else: Roe v. Wade did not completely legalize abortion. But the difference between our two states also highlights another truth about Roe v. Wade: it has been, and will likely continue to be, one of the most hotly debated Supreme Court decisions of our lives.

If you are considering terminating your pregnancy, please contact us. In addition to providing a full range of women’s health services, we also provide non-surgical abortions via one of two different oral medications. We know having an abortion can be a difficult decision and we are committed to helping women make the right decisions for themselves and their lives. You can call us at 800-998-4751 at your convenience.

If you would like to learn more about how Roe v. Wade changed abortion in America, we recommend the following articles, as well as the pages listed in the footnotes:

1 Guttmacher Institute, Accessed January 5, 2017.

2 Guttmacher Institute, Accessed January 5, 2017.

3 “In search of abortion, women are flocking to Illinois.” Crain’s Chicago Business. July 2, 2016


Last Updated on January 10, 2017 by Womens Aid Center Chicago


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