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See the extensive bibliography (divided into print, video/audio, and online resources) below the essay.

Roe v. Wade

[1] Roe v. Wade was a 1973 Supreme Court decision that is considered to be one of the most influential and controversial in our nation’s history. This court case concerned the legality of abortion and was brought by Jane Roe against the state of Texas. To this day, the landmark Roe v. Wade suit has affected women all over the United States and shaped the way in which our country deals with the rights of the viability of life, the rights of women, and the correlating right to privacy.

[2] At the heart of Roe v. Wade is Norma McCorvey, who operated throughout the court proceedings under the pseudonym of Jane Roe. In 1969, Norma was twenty-one-years-old, had already been married and divorced, and had a five-year-old daughter. She grew up in a neglectful home with an alcoholic father, and neither had a great deal or money nor was well-educated. While travelling with a circus selling tickets, she was raped one evening and became pregnant from this encounter. Because Norma had no money and no steady job and already had a daughter she could barely support, she sought to abort this unwanted child. However, in 1969 abortion was illegal in Texas unless it was to save the life of the mother. Even in situations of rape or incest, an abortion could not be legally attained. Women from Texas either had to find an illegal practitioner, which was often expensive and quite dangerous, or travel to Mexico, New York, Puerto Rico, or Europe to obtain an abortion. Women who were wealthy and well-connected were able to obtain illegal abortions in hospitals, yet this was a very rare occurrence. With no money, Norma was unable to secure any of these options. (see comment by Greg King)

[3] Linda Coffee and Sarah Weddington were two lawyers who attended law school at the University of Texas together and were extremely involved in the women’s movement. They belonged to groups such as the National Organization for Women (NOW) and Planned Parenthood and became very involved in the movement to legalize abortion. During the 1960s, abortion was on the national radar; it had become much less of a taboo topic and was frequently being discussed in the public sphere. When Coffee heard about Norma McCorvey through a colleague, she contacted her and asked if she would be the plaintiff for their abortion suit. Coffee and Weddington wanted to sue the state of Texas, and, if this worked, the decision would mean that other women in Texas in a comparable situation to Norma would be able to obtain a legal abortion. Their ultimate goal was an unambiguous dismissal of the Texas law that permitted abortions. Coffee and Weddington quickly decided to conceal Norma’s identity under the pseudonym Jane Roe, since her questionable background and her claim that her pregnancy was a result of rape could make the case more difficult to argue. Additionally, the lawyers wanted to protect Norma’s privacy and keep her out of the media.

[4] In March 1970, district attorney of Texas Henry Wade was served with papers saying that he was being sued by Jane Roe for $50,000, and that she sought a court order that would inhibit him from prosecuting further abortion cases. The case was heard in the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in May 1970. Coffee and Weddington chose to allow James Hallford, a licensed physician who had been indicted by Wade for performing abortions, to intervene in this case and add the dimension of someone representing the medical profession. Thus, the additional case of Doe v. Bolton was attached to Roe v. Wade but was tried separately. Wade appointed John Tolle, an assistant district attorney, to the Roe v. Wade case; Tolle made the argument that the fetus was a separate, viable human being and deserved as many rights as the mother. Coffee and Weddington argued that the state of Texas violated Norma McCorvey’s fundamental rights as guaranteed by the Constitution and, thus, that the Supreme Court should intervene. They based their case upon precedents such as Griswold v. Connecticut, a 1965 case that verified citizens’ right to privacy when distributing birth control; People v. Belous, a 1969 case that ruled that the California abortion law was unconstitutional after a doctor was indicted for performing abortions; and US v. Vuitch, which was the first time a federal court overthrew an abortion case involving a doctor in Washington, DC, who was indicted for performing abortions. The judges ruled in favor of Jane Roe in June 1970, and announced that the Texas abortion law was unconstitutional and that it violated a women’s right to privacy under the ninth amendment. However, the court did not issue an injunction, which would order the state of Texas to end its enforcement of the abortion law.

[5] Coffee and Weddington appealed this decision to the Supreme Court in August 1970 and heard back in May of 1971 that the Supreme Court was prepared to hear their case. This was an incredible achievement, since only five percent of all cases that are appealed to the Supreme Court are scheduled for oral argument. The briefs that Weddington and Coffee prepared for their court date were considerably superior to those filed by the opposition. Weddington and Coffee were sponsored by organizations such as the American Bar Association, American Medical Association, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and Planned Parenthood, who all put their brightest minds on the job of collecting as much information and statistics on abortion as possible. On the opposing side, the briefs were largely imprecise and misinformed. Sponsors included people such as Dr. Jack Wilke and Barbara Wilke, who taught sex education in churches throughout the nation. As a part of their brief, the Wilkes included their best-selling “Handbook on Abortion,” which included unlabeled photographs of aborted fetuses and contained no scientific data. The case began on December 13, 1971, and Norma McCorvey was not present. However, because two new justices had just been seated, Lewis Powell and William Rehnquist, the case was put over to the next term for re-argument.

[6] Two and half years after Roe v. Wade was first filed in the lower court, it was finally re-argued before the Supreme Court on October 10, 1972. Once again, Weddington argued, with Coffee on her bench, while Robert Flowers and Jay Lloyd, two assistant attorney generals of Texas, were newly appointed to argue for the opposition. On January 22, 1973, a decision in favor of Jane Roe took effect right away, leaving Texas and thirty-one other states that previously had limiting abortion laws without any of these said laws. The court voted with a majority of six justices -- Brennan, Douglas, Stewart, Powell, and Blackmun -- while the minority consisted of Burger, White, and Rehnquist. Blackmun heavily researched medical texts during the decision-making process, and in his final opinion wrote that pregnancy should be divided into three roughly equal trimesters of twelve weeks. During the first trimester, there would be no restrictions placed on abortions; during the second, the state could regulate abortion only to protect the woman’s health; and during the final trimester, which he deemed the stage of fetal viability, states could prohibit abortions if this did not endanger the life of the mother. In this effort, Blackmun sought to balance the rights of the pregnant mother with the rights of the fetus.

[7] Norma McCorvey finally broke her silence in the 1980s and came forward as Jane Roe. Since that time she has submitted to interviews if she is paid for them. Sarah Weddington went on to a career in politics, which includes her election to the Texas House of Representatives and her eventual role as an advisor to President Jimmy Carter, while Linda Coffee has continued her career in the practice of law.


Greg King 8/11/10

Carolyn says that Norma McCorvey was raped and that is why she decided to have the abortion that would lead to Roe vs. Wade. In my research, many sources state that this was a lie fabricated by McCorvey because abortions were legal in Texas at the time if the baby was due to rape. The official court proceedings for Roe vs. Wade, however, do not ever mention rape. (Sources include the memoir written by McCorvey titled "I Am Roe: My Life, Roe V. Wade, and Freedom of Choice." Norma McCorvey seems to have freely admitted this information.)

Print Resources

Baird, Robert M., and Stuart E. Rosenbaum. The Ethics of Abortion: Pro-Life Vs. Pro-Choice. New York: Promtheus Books, 2001.
With its 11 essays and its recounting of the Blackmun decision of Roe v. Wade, this book lays out the arguments on abortion. Four argue against and seven in favor of abortion.
Baker, Peter. "Obama Reverses Rule on U.S. Abortion Aid." New York Times 24 Jan. 2009.
Goes into depth about Obama's retraction of rules that prohibit our country from giving federal money to organizations that give information about, or provide, abortions overseas.
"Behind the Abortion Decline." New York Times 26 Jan. 2008.
This editorial focuses on the fact that, on the 35th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision, abortion rates are the lowest they've been since 1974. However, the author believes that the more effective method of reducing abortions, rather than putting legislative restrictions on them, is to concentrate on teaching women to avoid unwanted pregnancies in the first place.
Belluck, Pam. "The Right to be a Father (or Not)" New York Times 6 Nov. 2005.
Examines the rights that men have in relationships where women are considering abortion and impregnation with frozen embryos. Specifically, the 1991 case Planned Parenthood v. Casey is discussed, in which Pennsylvania law that said that women must tell their husbands if they seek an abortion was upheld.
Bradley, Craig M. "Abortion: A Mixed and Unsettled Legacy." The Rehnquist Legacy. New York: Cambridge UP, 2006.
This book details the specific Roe v. Wade court decision from the point of view of William Rehnquist, one of the Supreme Court justices who heard the case. Rehnquist provided a dissenting opinion, so this book serves as an interesting window into the opposition to Roe v. Wade.
Buckley, Cara, and Lee, Jennifer. "For Privacy's Sake, Risking Do-It-Yourself Abortion." New York Times 5 Jan. 2009. Also "The Abortion Choices of Poor Women" – letters to the editor regarding the above article. New York Times 12 Jan. 2009.
The original article by Buckley and Lee discusses the use of unsafe and illegal abortion methods within the Dominican-American community, even though there are "safe, legal, and inexpensive" alternatives widely available. This article garnered five responses, four of which were written by women. The responses all critique the original article's statement that abortions can be procured safely, legally, and inexpensively, citing reasons such as lack of education as one of the main catalysts for women taking abortion into their own hands. One of the responses, from Anne Davis, the medical director of Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health, refutes Buckley and Lee's declaration that abortion is reasonably priced, saying that costs can often run around five hundred dollars.
Davis, Tom. "Planned Parenthood and the Clergy Consultation Service on Abortion, 1967-1973" and "The Post-Roe Era, 1973-1992." Sacred Work: Planned Parenthood and its Clergy Alliances. New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 2005.
This book provides the unique perspective of a clergyman who is involved in Planned Parenthood and its effort for greater reproductive rights. He tries to clear up the misperception that all religious institutions and individuals are opposed to abortion, and describes the many ways in which people affiliated with religion sought to aid the cause of women's rights.
Engstrom, Janet L., and Ramona G. Hunter. "Teaching Reproductive Options Through the Use of Fiction: The Cider House Rules Project." Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic, and Neonatal Nursing 36.5 (2007): 464.
Engstrom and Hunter conduct a study wherein they ask medical students to read the novel and apply it to their learning environment. The students read the novel and responded to a series of questions about how the ideals related in the book connected to their views as future medical professionals. Engstrom and Hunter make the point that any learning experience benefits from using stories and life experiences in learning, rather than just rote memorization.
Faux, Marian. Roe V. Wade: The Untold Story of the Landmark Supreme Court Decision that Made Abortion Legal. New York: MacMillan Publishing Company, 1988.
This book is a long, narrative account of the history of all who were involved in and touched by Roe v. Wade. We learn in this book not only of Jane Roe's (Norma McCorvey's) life but of the two female lawyers who conceived of and argued this case and how contact was established and all of the personal, detailed events that followed. This is a very in-depth, comprehensive account of the Roe v. Wade case.
George, Robert P., and Patrick Lee. "Abortion." Body-Self Dualism in Contemporary Ethics and Politics. New York: Cambridge UP, 2008.
This book takes a deep look at the relationship between the personal and the biological aspects of human beings and how their behavior is affected by this dualism. It argues that abortion is ultimately morally wrong because embryological evidence proves that fetuses are human beings and have full moral worth.
Hammond, Bill. "Abortion Bill is a Bitter Pill." [New York] Daily News 26 Feb. 2008.
Discusses the legality of abortion in the state of New York and how Governor Spitzer pushed a bill that would keep abortion as a "fundamental right" in the state's law, lest the Supreme Court overturn Roe v. Wade. The article then launches into a dialogue about New York as the "abortion capital of the nation," and how Spitzer's bill will most likely succeed in creating even more enemies with the Senate Republicans and the Catholic Church.
Hulse, Carl. "Senate Outlaws Injury to Fetus During a Crime." New York Times 26 March 2004.
Talks about the recently passed legislation that makes it a crime unto itself to harm a fetus in crimes perpetrated against pregnant women. This legislation was considered to be a victory for the predominantly Republican Congress, as it recognizes the legal rights of an unborn fetus.
Irons, Peter. "The Raw Eyes of Human Existence: The Issue of Abortion" and "The Values We Share with a Wider Civilization." A People's History of the Supreme Court: The Men and Women Whose Cases and Decisions Have Shaped Our Constitution. New York: Penguin, 2006.
This book deals strictly with the Roe v. Wade court case from a judicial standpoint. It goes into depth about the history of the Supreme Court Justices who ruled on this case and how their personal politics and prejudices came into play when making this decision. The straightforward facts on the court case are presented here.
Meyerson, Ben. "Anti-Abortion Marchers Hope Obama's Listening; Protesters in Washington Criticize the President's Policies on the Anniversary of Roe v. Wade." Los Angeles Times 23 Jan. 2009.
Explains the history of the March for Life that occurs every year on the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade court decision. The pro-life March for Life was especially disappointed with Obama's rhetoric about "hope" and "change," considering that he still adopted a pro-choice stance.
Rockwood, Bruce L. "Abortion Stories: Uncivil Discourse and 'Cider House Rules.'" Law and Literature Perspectives. New York: Peter Lang, 1996.
Lots of information about the laws relating to abortion and a generous walk through the novel: "One cannot read Irving's text [the novel] without coming in contact with almost every conceivable situation, example, and argument for and against choosing or permitting abortion, while at the same time feeling the force of its primary conclusion, reflected in one of the final letters its central character, Dr. Wilbur Larch, sends to persuade his reluctant apprentice, Homer Wells, to take over doing 'the Lords' work.'"
Schaefer, David Lewis. "Putting Some Honesty in Roe v. Wade Debate." Boston Globe 8 Oct. 2008.
Looks into the political beliefs of John McCain during his Presidential campaign and what would happen if he were to overturn the controversial Roe v. Wade case. Schaefer discusses what the repercussions of overturning this ruling would be, such as returning the issue of abortion to state control.
Seelye, Katharine Q., and John M. Broder. "In Forum at Church, Rivals Meet Briefly and Part Sharply on Social Issues." New York Times 17 Aug. 2008.
Goes over the differing views of Barack Obama and John McCain that were presented during interviews at the Saddleback Church. While McCain claimed that he wants to be a "pro-life President" and believes that life begins at the moment of conception, Obama expressed that he is pro-abortion because "ultimately I don't think women make these decisions casually."
Suleik, Mercedes B. "Capital View; Life is Precious." Business World 4 Feb. 2009.
Ties the issue of abortion in with a very current media sensation – the woman who recently gave birth to octuplets and who also has six other children. Suleik examines this woman's decision not to abort any of the eight fetuses and ultimately proclaims that she made the proper, moral choice by doing so.

See Also

Boonin, David. A Defense of Abortion. Boulder: U of Colorado P, 2003.

Chavkin, Wendy, and Ellen Chesler. Where Human Rights Begin: Health, Sexuality, and Women in the New Millenium. New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 2005.

Chavkin, Wendy, and Ellen Chesler. Where Human Rights Begin: Health, Sexuality, and Women in the New Millenium. New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 2005.

D'Acci, Julie. "Leading up to Roe v. Wade: Television Documentaries in the Abortion Debate." Television, History, and American Culture: Feminist Critical Essays. Ed. Lauren Rabinovitz. Durham: Duke UP, 1999.

Hull, N.E.H., and Peter Charles Hoffer. Roe v. Wade: The Abortion Rights Controversy in American History. Lawrence: UP of Kansas, 2001.

Hull, N.E.H., and Peter Charles Hoffer. The Abortion Rights Controversy in America: A Legal Reader. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 2004.

McCorvey, Norma, and Andy Meisler. I Am Roe: My Life, Roe V. Wade, and Freedom of Choice. San Francisco: Harpercollins, 1994.

Mellow, Nicole. "The Political Resurrection of the Bible Belt: Religion, Modernization, and the Intensification of Abortion Politics." The State of Discussion: Regional Sources of Modern American Partisanship. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 2008.

Paris, Ginette. The Sacrament of Abortion. Trans. Joanna Mott. Dallas: Spring Publications, 1992. Trans. of L'Enfant, l'Amour, la Mort. Quebec: Editions Nuits Blanches, 1990.

Rubin, Eva R., ed. The Abortion Controversy: A Documentary History. New York: Oxford UP, 1994.

Staggenborg, Suzanne. The Pro-Choice Movement: Organization and Activism in the Abortion Conflict. New York: Oxford UP, 1994.

United States. The United Nations and the Advancement of Women, 1945-1996. The United Nations Blue Book Series, Volume VI. New York: United Nations Department of Public Information: 1996.

Video/Audio Resources

Eclipse of Reason
Bernard Nathanson, M.D., a former abortionist, produced this video documenting the termination of a baby boy at five months gestation, as seen by a camera inside the mother's uterus.
Lake of Fire. Dir. Tony Kaye. Anonymous Content, 2006.
Details both sides of the abortion controversy. Included are interviews with various men and women with strong opinions on the subject, footage from both pro-life and pro-choice rallies, and videos of two abortion procedures.
The Silent Scream.
"The Silent Scream is a 1984 video about abortion directed and filmed by Dr. Bernard Nathanson. The film depicts the abortion process via ultrasound and vividly shows an abortion taking place on the fetus. In detail, the fetus is described as appearing to make outcries of pain and discomfort during the process. The video has been a popular tool used by the pro-life campaign in arguing against abortion, even being shown at the White House by then President Ronald Reagan." (Wikipedia)

Online Resources

Abortion Debate
"The abortion debate refers to discussion and controversy surrounding the moral and legal status of abortion. The two main groups involved in the abortion debate are the pro-choice movement, which supports access to abortion and regards it as morally permissible, and the pro-life movement, which generally opposes access to abortion and regards it as morally wrong."
Abortion survivor Gianna Jessen schools Barack Obama
The other side of the film's point of view about abortion.
Jessen, an abortion survivor.
Head, Tom. "Pro-Life vs. Pro-Choice."
"The terms 'pro-life' and 'pro-choice' generally boil down to the question of whether the individual wants to see abortion banned, but there's more to the debate than that. Let's explore, briefly, what the central arguments are about."
Lewis, Jone Johnson. "Roe v. Wade Supreme Court Decision."
Links to various documents to aid study of the decision, including a link to the text of the decision and a study guide on it.
National Abortion Federation
One of the nation's leading voices for abortion.
Planned Parenthood
One of the country's most important abortion-advocating organizations.
Political Punch -- ABC News -- Sept 16, 2008.
"A new 527 has emerged. Called, the political organization says its mission 'is to educate the public on the IL Born Alive Infants Protection Act and Sen. Obama's record opposing this act.'"
Roe v. Wade (1973)
Roe v. Wade (1973)
Roe v. Wade (1973)
Oral argument.
Roe v. Wade (1973)
The Silent Scream
"This website graphically shows an abortion 11 weeks after conception and therefore should not be viewed by children. . . . We believe that abortion is the taking of an innocent life and violates God's Commandment 'Thou shalt not kill.'"