In Gonzales v. Carhart (2007), the US Supreme Court held in a five-to-four decision that the 2003 Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act passed by the US Congress was constitutional. Although the Court previously ruled in Stenberg v. Carhart (2000) that a Nebraska law that prohibited partial-birth abortions was unconstitutional, Gonzales reversed this decision. Gonzales created the precedent that anyone who delivers and kills a living fetus could be subject to legal consequences, unless he or she performed the procedure to save the life of the mother.
In the 1973 case of Roe v. Wade, the US Supreme Court ruled that laws banning abortion violated the US Constitution. The Texas abortion laws, articles 1191–1194, and 1196 of the Texas penal code, made abortion illegal and criminalized those who performed or facilitated the procedure. Prior to Roe v. Wade, most states heavily regulated or banned abortions. The US Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade secured women's rights to terminate pregnancies for any reasons within the first trimester of pregnancy. It also sparked legal discussions of abortion, fetus viability and personhood, and the trimester framework, setting a landmark precedent for future cases including Webster v. Reproductive Health Services (1989), Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992), and Stenberg v. Carhart (2000).
In 2013, Cynthia Daniels and a team of researchers at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, founded the Informed Consent Project. Daniels and the researchers assessed the medical accuracy of information within state-authored informational materials for abortion. States give those materials to women who want an abortion, but using their research, the Informed Consent Project found some information from those materials to be inaccurate, misleading, and coercive. The Informed Consent Project gathered a panel of researchers and medical specialists to review the information about embryological and fetal development from twenty-three states’ informational materials. They found that approximately one-third of that information was inaccurate. The work of the Informed Consent Project challenges abortion-specific informed consent laws, highlighting medical inaccuracies in state-authored informational materials as evidence that women’s consent to abortion may be based on false or misleading statements.
As of 2021, twenty-eight US states have informed consent laws for abortion, which is a medical procedure to terminate pregnancy, often called Women’s Right to Know laws. Those laws often require the state government to develop informational materials that healthcare providers must give to women before an abortion. Informational materials generally include information about the process of fetal development, accompanied by illustrations or pictures, risks and effects of abortion, and alternatives to abortion. Supporters of informed consent laws for abortion argue that such information is important for women to make a decision to have an abortion. Individual states author and distribute those informational materials, which are a primary source of information for people who seek an abortion. Medical expert and abortion rights activists have criticized the materials for providing inaccurate information, making misleading statements, and using coercive language to discourage women from choosing abortion.
In Stuart v. Camnitz, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed the decision of a North Carolina District Court that declared a controversial ultrasound mandate for abortions unconstitutional in 2014. The ultrasound mandate was a part of the Woman’s Right to Know Act introduced in North Carolina in 2011, which placed several restrictions on abortion care providers in the state. If enforced, the ultrasound mandate would have required physicians to perform an ultrasound on every patient before an abortion and simultaneously describe the resulting image of the fetus regardless of whether the woman wanted to hear the description. The District Court ruled the mandate an unconstitutional violation of physicians’ free speech rights. The Fourth Circuit Court’s decision to affirm the District Court’s ruling established that the state could not compel healthcare providers to recite what the court called state ideology to patients against their medical judgment, which broke with precedent set by prior rulings by the Fifth and Eighth Circuit Courts in similar cases.
In 2019, Americans United for Life, hereafter AUL, published a model legislation, called the Women’s Right to Know Act, in their annual publication Defending Life. The goal of the model legislation, which AUL annually updates, is to help state governments enact enhanced informed consent laws for abortion. The Women’s Right to Know Act requires physicians to provide specific information to women before they may consent to having an abortion. It also suggests that individual US state governments to develop informational materials about abortion and pregnancy that healthcare providers must give to women before they receive an abortion. As of 2020, twenty-eight states have enacted informed consent laws for abortion that resemble the Women’s Right to Know Act. In a larger effort to dismantle legal access to abortion, the AUL’s Women’s Right to Know Act encourages individual states to restrict access to abortion to protect, what the organization calls, the unborn child.
In 2003, the Texas state legislature passed the Woman’s Right to Know Act, hereafter the Act, as Chapter 171 of the state’s Health and Safety Code. The Act sets requirements that physicians must follow during the informed consent process for abortion, or a medical procedure to terminate pregnancy, in Texas. Lawmakers amended the Act and added several additional regulations that restrict access to abortion in 2011, 2013, 2015, and 2017. For instance, the Act requires that physicians perform abortions after sixteen weeks of pregnancy in ambulatory surgical centers or hospitals and states that physicians must perform an ultrasound to view images, called sonograms, of a developing fetus inside a woman’s uterus before a woman may receive an abortion. The Act further requires practitioners and clinics to offer state-developed informational materials to women who seek an abortion. The Act placed several restrictions on abortion care in Texas, making it more difficult for women to access safe and legal abortion care, which opponents have challenged in courts.
Betty Friedan advocated for the advancement of women's rights in the twentieth century in the United States. In 1963, Friedan wrote The Feminine Mystique, which historians consider a major contribution to the feminist movement. Friedan also helped establish two organizations that advocated for women's right, the National Organization for Women (NOW) in 1963 and, in 1969 the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws (NAARL). Friedan argued for legalizing access to abortion and contraception, and her advocacy helped advance women's reproductive rights.