By Ava Lee-Green

January 22, 2023, is the 50th anniversary of the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade, which, until last year, provided legal protections to those seeking to get an abortion.    

The Road to the 50th anniversary 

On January 22, 1973, the Supreme Court announced its decision, ultimately granting women nationwide the right to choose to terminate their pregnancies. 

Under the pseudonym “Jane Roe”, Norma McCorvey tried to get an abortion in Texas, whose previous laws made abortions illegal unless necessary to save the mother’s life. Her lawsuit against Henry Wade, her local district attorney at the time, alleged that Texas’ abortion laws were unconstitutional. In a 7-2 ruling in favor of McCorvey, the Supreme Court found that the fundamental “right to privacy” protected a woman’s right to get an abortion. 

Over the next 50 years, this landmark case not only set a precedent regarding abortion cases but has been utilized in other cases about personal liberties and privacy. Loving v. Virginia, which deemed the ban on interracial marriages unconstitutional, and Obergefell v. Hodges, whose decision legalized same-sex marriage on the federal level, both cited the “Due Process” clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, just like in Roe v. Wade

Despite criticisms, Roe v. Wade has been praised by many for making abortions more accessible. By legalizing abortions in the U.S., organizations could provide those wishing to terminate their pregnancies with safer access to necessary medical treatment. 

What has happened since the overturning of Roe v. Wade?

2023 also marks one year since Roe v. Wade was overturned. In June 2022, the Supreme Court ruled in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case that the U.S. Constitution does not grant the right to abortion access. As abortions are no longer protected by the precedent set by Roe v. Wade, individual states now have the power to regulate access to the procedure. In the past year, many states have begun banning access to abortions (view this map from the Center for Reproductive Rights to see which states have done so). As of today, there are 12 states that have outright bans and even more that have extremely restricting laws. 

There have also been many promising developments. In California, Governor Gavin Newsom signed new bills that expand access to abortions and strengthen privacy protections for patients and providers. Through this direct attack against other states’ trigger laws that criminalize abortions, Newsom hopes to make the state a “safe haven” for those seeking an abortion. 

“An alarming number of states continue to outlaw abortion and criminalize women, and it’s more important than ever to fight like hell for those who need these essential services.”

– California Governor Gavin Newsom

Even in states where abortions are banned, recent court cases have deemed highly restrictive laws unconstitutional. South Carolina’s High Court ruled that the state’s abortion laws, which ban the procedure after 20 weeks, violate its citizens’ right to privacy. In Georgia, the state court determined that the six-week ban was similarly unconstitutional. These two cases are just the beginning of the fight against the extremely limiting and dangerous laws that prevent access to abortions.

Looking to the Future

What will abortion laws look like in another 50 years? While we can’t see into the future, there are some things we can do now to promote access to reproductive care:

  1. Support local organizations that provide abortions. National organizations like Planned Parenthood and the National Network of Abortion Funds have chapters in local communities that you can donate to. You can also directly help patients by volunteering to be an abortion clinic escort.
  2. Black women and women of color are more likely to be negatively impacted by restrictions on abortion access. Support and elevate organizations that work in these targeted communities, like ERA Coalition partner In Our Own Voice: National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda.
  3. Contact your representatives. Make it known that you, as a constituent, believe that more work must be done on the local and federal levels to protect those seeking abortions. 
  4. Educate yourself. Although Roe v. Wade was overturned, there are many other pieces of legislation, like the Equal Rights Amendment, that could provide legal protections for abortion access. Misinformation is constantly spread about abortion care, so it is important to stay informed with accurate information.

Read the ERA Coalition/Fund for Women's Equality statement on the 50th anniversary of Roe

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