The legal status of abortion



America has gone through different social upheavals that called for quick or gradual reforms. One of the social challenges that the US has gone through was the issue of abortion. The debate surrounding abortion has elicited numerous reactions from many people, but at the same time called for legal reforms in the United States of America. Abortion is the termination of pregnancy before its stipulated time. There has been a legal tussle between the pro-life and pro-choice. The pro-life crusaders and opponents of abortion demand that abortion is declared illegal. On the other hand, the pro-choice proponents feel that the woman should be given the right to decide whether to conduct an abortion or not. It has been difficult for the two sides of the divide to reach a compromising position regarding abortion. The social challenges that came about as a result of abortion caused significant legal reforms that helped to tackle the issue.  This paper will unearth the constitutional changes that resulted as a consequence of the emergence of abortion practice in the United States of America.

Abortion and the Legal Reforms

In the United States of America, abortion has been an issue of concern for many years.  Before 1973, America primary concern was reproductive health decisions and birth control. Abortion happened to be part of the reproductive health decisions.  It was related to the routine family planning procedures. There was a growing concern for the women to have total control over their bodies when it comes to the issue of family planning and abortion.  Women were left to decide on birth control measures at that time (Erickson 34). The issues of contraceptives and other forms of family planning were entirely the responsibility of women. Birth control movements in America began to try and limit the number of children people could have.  Some people criticized this move, but eventually, it was accepted and embraced to help minimize population growth.

In the 19th century, abortion was not a civil or moral issue in the United States of America.  Women were left to decide by themselves concerning matters of abortion. However, this was short lived because states started enacting laws to govern abortion. The laws were formulated as a result of pressure from the clergy and medical doctors.  In the 20th century, abortion was declared illegal in America, and people were not allowed to conduct it (Ziegler 1). There were many concerns from the US citizens concerning the legalization of abortion (Ziegler 1).  Many issues emerged about the rights of women and their reproductive health. The need for women to have birth control measures, abortion and the use of contraceptives remained issues of concern in America at this time.

In the 1950s, family planning was gaining momentum and the New York Academy of medicine planned for a parenthood conference.  Some of the issues discussed at the meeting included abortion.  Later on, medical and legal fraternities started examining the issue of abortion.  Many questions concerning women began to emerge, including the right to make decisions concerning their reproductive health.  Many women movements and organizations began to appear in the 60’s advocating for family planning and abortion (Erickson 37). Funding was even provided for contraceptives to reduce population growth, which was linked to poverty, health issues and other social challenges. All matters to do with family planning, abortion and birth control; in America were gradually becoming a major social concern. Abortion was considered as one of the measures to be taken in ensuring that there is birth control.

Abortion becomes a controversial issue that was associated with the birth control in the mid-20th century. There were many debates concerning the issue of abortion. Many concerns were raised during this time about the personhood definition, medical authority and the legal rights of women. Women movements tried to ventilate through this matter, but it was not successful. Amidst all these social concerns, the Supreme Court made a crucial ruling in favor of women in 1973. It was decided that women be allowed to conduct abortion without restriction (Ziegler 2). The case of Roe v. Wade changed perceptions concerning abortion by introducing legal reforms that governed the issue of abortion. This ruling has remained significant in America’s history because any amendment to the abortion rules springs, from this Supreme Court decision of 1973.

Legal Reforms

The decision of the supreme court of America concerning the Roe v. Wade abortion case of 1973 was binding on all states. This ruling that many did not expect brought an end to the continuous public debates about abortion. All the states, Congress, and the president were required to abide by the ruling without any alterations. The Fourteenth Amendment to the US constitution was the primary basis upon which the verdict of this case was derived. The constitution in this section requires that nobody should be deprived “liberty”. The judges understood liberty to mean “right to privacy” (Hitchcock 81). They went ahead to affirm that abortion was included in the right to privacy. The right for a woman to terminate a pregnancy was well protected by this section of the constitution. Women were granted legal rights to procure abortions if they feel like because it was their constitutional right according to the Supreme Court judges. There was no law restricting women from conducting abortion since the constitution allowed them to do so according to the judges. Therefore, all women had the right to exercise their liberty as expressed in the fourteenth chapter of the constitution.

The other thing that the court dealt with was regarding the unborn person. The court based its ruling on the fourteenth amendment where the judges further interpreted the use of the term “person”. It was ruled that the word person as used in this section of the constitution does not in any way refer to the unborn. According to the judge, the law in this fourteenth amendment does not protect the rights of the unborn. The constitution does not consider them as complete human beings. (Higgins 54). This interpretation implies that women do not break any law when they conduct abortions. The Supreme Court rendered abortion legal and women from all the states were allowed to perform it if there was a need.

In exercising judicial powers, the judges rendered null and voided the abortion laws from all the states. These laws could not be enforced because they were obsolete. The prosecution of abortion laws offenders could not proceed because the law was revoked. The judges did not stop here, but instead went further to draft abortion standards. These standards were to be binding on the entire nation of America. The judges proposed three levels of pregnancy that called for different interventions. The trimester framework was to ensure that the mother’s rights to abortion and life were safeguarded and also the state’s right to protect human life. The first trimester comprised of the first twelve weeks. The judges held that this level required no regulation at all (Forsythe 9). The mother was free to procure an abortion at this level without being questioned by anybody. At the first level, the court was of the view that conducting abortion was safe and therefore the decision to abort remained with the mother and her physician.

The second trimester began immediately after the end of the first twelve weeks. At this level, the interests of the state come in when protecting the health of the mother. The state was granted the right to regulate abortion at this level for the sake of preserving the life of the mother. It is evident that the judges were very much concerned about the life of the mother during the second trimester. The permission by the state to procure abortion when the life of the mother is in danger was granted at this level. All the regulations that are found in the second trimester were geared towards protecting the mother. The third trimester was concerned about the life of the unborn child commonly referred to as “potential life” (Forsythe 10). At this level, the state had the legal mandate to disallow abortion to protect the life of the innocent child. As long as the mother was safe, the state could compel for the preservation of life in the third trimester.

The federal courts were required to offer oversight as regards abortion regulations. Any abortion law passed by the local and state government was subject to approval by the federal courts. The federal court was allowed to listen and determine any abortion regulation coming from the abortion practitioners. The Supreme Court judges directed the federal courts to arbitrate matters concerning abortion. Therefore any control about abortion that raised concerns was to be heard in the federal courts.

Advantages or Shortcomings of the Changes in Law

The legal reforms that occurred in America in 1973 as a result of the Supreme Court ruling had a positive impact on the American society. Earlier on abortion was illegal in many states, but the Supreme Court made abortion legal in all states. When abortion was illegal in the United States, many people conducted unsafe abortions. However, after the legalization, people started performing safe abortions. Immediately after the ruling, abortion clinics were set up to help people who needed these services. Every state had an abortion clinic, and others were opened in some of the major cities in America. The opening of the clinics was to ensure that women conducted safe abortions. The medical practitioners were required to make sure that people did not lose their lives in the process of performing an abortion (Legge 153). Countries, where abortion is illegal and many people, lose their lives in the process of securing an abortion. In the United States of America, since the legalization of abortion, the number of people who die as a result of abortion has dramatically decreased. It is, therefore, an indication that the legalization of abortion secured mother’s lives.

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The other advantage that this law brought is the ability to record abortion statistics. Before the legalization of abortion, it was difficult for the state or other organs to know the number of people conducting an abortion accurately. The records could not be found because the practitioners and their clients were not willing to share the information due to the fear of being apprehended. However, when the Supreme Court made abortion legal, it was easy for the sake of record keeping. The number of people visiting abortion clinics could be quickly recorded and kept for reference purposes. The other issue concerning abortion statistics is the method of abortion used. All over the world induced abortion proves to be safer than other forms of abortion (Gurtovnik 16). In places where abortion is illegal, it is not easy to tell the exact method that is used. In the United States of America after the legal reforms about abortion, it is easy to access the records of the method of abortion that is used in various places.


Abortion remains to be a sensitive issue in the United States of America. The legalization of abortion in America has brought various reactions from both the pro-life and pro-choice. There are those who feel that this was a positive move towards the realization of the freedoms and rights of women in the society. On the other hand, there are those who feel that abortion is detrimental to life. However, the restructuring of the laws through the legal reforms helped to standardize legal framework through which abortion issues can be tackled in the whole country. It is clear that any other regulation concerning abortion in the United States of American can be quickly redressed through federal courts.

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  1. Erickson, Rosemary. The use of social science data in Supreme Court decisions. Chicago: University of Illinois press, 2008.
  2. Forsythe, Clarke. Abuse of discretion: The inside story of Roe v. Wade: Encounter books, 2001.
  3. Gurtovnik, Rudolph. A study of the effects of abortion in the United States: The reasoning behind abortions and improving access to care. Florida: Boca Raton, 2008.
  4. Higgins, Melissa. Roe v. Wade: Abortion and a woman’s right to privacy. Minnesota: Abdo consulting group, 2013.
  5. Hitchcock, Susan. Roe v. Wade: Protecting a woman’s right to choose. New York: Chelsea house publishers, 2007.
  6. Legge, Jerome. Abortion policy: An evaluation of the consequences for maternal and infant Albany: university of New York, 2005.
  7. Ziegler, Mary. After Roe: The lost history of the abortion debate. London: Harvard university press, 2015.
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