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 the 1962 case Planned Parenthood Committee of Phoenix v. Maricopa County, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled that Arizona Revised Statute 13-213, which banned the public advertising of contraceptive or abortion medication or services, was constitutional. However, the court also ruled that that Arizona Revised Statute 13-213 did not apply to Planned Parenthood's distribution of contraceptive information, allowing Planned Parenthood to continue distributing the information. Following the case, the Arizona law was challenged several times and eventually deemed unconstitutional in the 1973 case State v. New Times INC. The case Planned Parenthood Committee of Phoenix v. Maricopa County established that Planned Parenthood's distribution of medical literature was not advertising as described in the law, and it initiated a decade long discussion about the constitutionality of the laws preventing the distribution of materials related to contraception or 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 the 1972 case Planned Parenthood Center of Tucson, Inc., v. Marks, the Arizona Court of Appeals required the Arizona Superior Court to rehear the case Planned Parenthood Association v. Nelson (1971) and issue a decision on the constitutionality of Arizona's abortion laws. In 1971, the Planned Parenthood Center of Tucson filed the case Planned Parenthood Association v. Nelson asking for the US District Court to rule on the constitutionality of the Arizona Revised Statutes 13-211, 13-212, and 13-213, which made it illegal for anyone to advertise, provide, or receive an abortion. The decision in Planned Parenthood Center of Tucson, Inc., v. Marks forced the Arizona Superior Court to issue a decision on the constitutionality of the Arizona abortion laws, and is one in a series of lawsuits that culminated in the legalization of abortion in Arizona in 1973.
The 1973 Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade was a significant event in the story of fetal personhood—the story of whether embryos and fetuses are legal persons. Roe legalized abortion care in the United States (US). However, the story of fetal personhood began long before the 1970s. People have been talking about embryos, fetuses, and their status in science, the law, and society for centuries. I studied the history of fetal personhood in the United States, tracing its origins from Ancient Rome and Medieval England to its first appearance in a US courtroom in 1884 and then to the Supreme Court’s decision in 1973.
The North Carolina state legislature passed The Woman’s Right to Know Act in 2011, which places several restrictions on abortion care in the state. The Woman’s Right to Know Act, or the Act, imposes informed consent requirements that physicians must fulfill before performing an abortion as well as a twenty-four hour waiting period between counseling and the procedure for people seeking abortion, with exceptions for cases of medical emergency. Then-governor of North Carolina Beverly Perdue initially vetoed House Bill 854, which contained the Act, but the state legislature overrode her veto to pass the bill. In response to a lawsuit that the American Civil Liberties Union, or ACLU, and other organizations filed in 2011, a US district court judge blocked the law’s ultrasound mandate from going into effect and a later court case determined that the mandate was illegal. With the passage of the Act in North Carolina, the state passed several abortion regulations and mandated that abortion providers must inform women of specific details about their pregnancy before performing the abortion procedure.
In January 2014, Mary Gatter and colleagues published “Relationship between Ultrasound Viewing and Proceeding to Abortion” in Obstetrics and Gynecology hereafter “Ultrasound Viewing.” As of 2021, ten states require women to undergo an ultrasound before they may consent to having an abortion. Self-described pro-life organizations assert that viewing an image of the fetus will dissuade women from having an abortion. The authors reviewed women’s medical records from over fifteen thousand visits to one abortion provider in 2011.The authors determined viewing an ultrasound image did not change the minds of women who were already highly certain that abortion was the right decision, challenging the idea that mandatory ultrasound viewing has any effect on women’s decision to have an abortion.
In 1976, the US Congress passed the Hyde Amendment, which banned the use of federal funding to pay for abortions through Medicaid. In 1976, Illinois Congressman Henry J. Hyde proposed the amendment to the Departments of Labor and Health, Education, and Welfare, Appropriation Act of 1977. In 1980, the US Supreme Court in Harris v. McRae (1980) upheld the constitutionality of the Hyde Amendment. Included annually in every Congressional appropriation act after the one passed in 1976, amended versions of the Hyde Amendment have restricted federal funding of abortion services for women participating in Medicaid.
On 30 June 1980, in a five to four decision, the US Supreme Court ruled in the Case Harris v. McRae that the Hyde Amendment of 1976 did not violate the US Constitution. The Hyde Amendment banned the use of federal funding to pay for any abortion services. The US Supreme Court's decision in Harris v. McRae overturned the decision of McRae v. Califano (1980), in which the US District Court for the Eastern District of New York had ruled that the funding restrictions established by the Hyde Amendment violated the US Constitution. After the US Supreme Court's ruling in Harris v. McRae, the Hyde Amendment continued to prohibit federal Medicaid funding for abortion services, limiting the funds available for low-income women seeking abortions.
In the case of Beal v. Doe, tried in 1977, the US Supreme Court ruled that states could constitutionally restrict money from Medicaid from funding elective abortions. After the 1973 case Roe v. Wade, in which the US Supreme Court had ruled women have the rights to terminate pregnancies within the first trimester, the state of Pennsylvania passed legislation that restricted the use of Medicaid funds for abortion procedures. In 1977, several Medicaid eligible women who were unable to receive coverage for a non-therapeutic abortion brought a case against Frank S. Beal, secretary of the Department of Public Welfare of Pennsylvania. The US Supreme Court decision in Beal v. Doe gave states the authority to place Medicaid restrictions on funding for non-therapeutic or elective abortions.