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).
Misericordia et Misera (Mercy with Misery) was a letter written by Pope Francis and published in Rome, Italy, on 20 November 2016. Through the letter, Pope Francis gives priests the ability to grant forgiveness for abortion. Before Pope Francis’s letter, priests had some ability to grant forgiveness for the Catholic sin of abortion, but bishops had to grant that ability to the priests individually. Prior to the letter, the official rules of the Catholic Church did not state that priests could forgive abortion-related sins. The extension provided in the letter did not change the status of abortion as a grave sin that could result in excommunication. By extending that ability to priests, Pope Francis made forgiveness through the Catholic Church more accessible for women, doctors, and those who take part in an abortion, which started a discussion about the status of abortion in the Catholic Church in the twenty-first century.
The Jane Collective was an underground organization that provided illegal abortion services in Chicago, Illinois, from 1969 until abortions became legal in 1973. Formally called the Abortion Counseling Service of Women’s Liberation, the Jane Collective was a member organization and working group within Chicago Women’s Liberation Union that challenged the Illinois state legislature by providing abortions before they were legal in the US. The organization, commonly referred to as Jane, was founded by women’s liberation activists in Chicago in 1969 to reduce the number of unsafe and expensive abortions being performed by unqualified providers. It is estimated that from 1969 to 1973 the Jane Collective provided nearly twelve thousand abortions. The Jane Collective was a healthcare initiative and a political education project that provided abortion and reproductive healthcare solutions to thousands of women and brought attention to the many unsafe illegal abortions done in Chicago.
In the 1971 court case United States v. Milan Vuitch, hereafter US v. Vuitch, the US Supreme Court ruled that a Washington, DC law was constitutional by overturning a 1969 district court decision. Beginning in the early twentieth century, Washington, DC, prohibited abortions except for abortions performed to preserve the life or health of the pregnant woman. In 1969, Milan Vuitch, a physician in Washington, DC, was convicted of criminal abortion for providing an abortion when the woman’s life was not endangered. In his defense, Vuitch argued that the Washington abortion law was unconstitutionally vague, meaning it failed to define health in terms clear enough so that doctors could be sure what actions violated the law. Though a lower district court agreed with Vuitch and struck down the law as unconstitutional, the Supreme Court later disagreed and overturned the decision. US v. Vuitch was one of the first US Supreme Court cases that challenged the constitutional validity of laws regulating abortion and set a precedent that helped determine future abortion cases, like Roe v. Wade in 1973, which made abortions more accessible and gave women more control over their bodies.