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Reproductive Rights - History

court privacy griswold abortions

Until the mid-1800s abortion was not a crime in this country. However, by the beginning of the 1900s, it was banned in every state. In 1930, approximately 800,000 abortions were performed illegally, resulting in an annual death toll of approximately 8,000 to 17,000. Griswold v. Connecticut (1965) represented the first major development in reproductive rights. In Griswold the Court ruled a Connecticut statute that prohibited both married and unmarried couples from using contraceptives unconstitutional. Griswold was important because it marked the first time the Court acknowledged a "right to privacy" in the Constitution. Although the case dealt specifically with "marital privacy," the ruling would have far reaching effects for subsequent right to privacy issue--including reproductive rights. All subsequent reproductive rights defined by the courts owe their origin, directly or indirectly, to Griswold, which codified the notion of a right to privacy in America's legal system for the first time. In Eisenstadt v. Baird (1972), consistent with Griswoldthe Court extended the right to use contraceptives to single people. These initial reproductive rights victories laid the foundation for a constitutional challenge to the abortion ban in 1973.

In Roe v. Wade, (1973) the U.S. Supreme Court found that the fundamental constitutional right to privacy applied to the right to procure an abortion. The Court found the right "broad enough to encompass a woman's decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy." The Texas statute that was challenged in Roe prohibited abortions any time during the first trimester except in cases that threatened the life of the mother. The Court found that statutes that prohibited abortions were in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. In addition, the Court settled the previously undetermined issue of viability; the Court established that a fetus was considered to be a "viable" human at about 24-28 weeks. States were permitted to regulate abortions after viability in order to protect the life of the fetus unless the procedure was necessary to preserve the life or health of the mother.

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