Roe v. Wade (1973)

Case Summary: Roe v. Wade (1973)

Issue: Does the Constitution recognize a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy by abortion, and are the Texas criminal abortion statutes that prohibit procuring or attempting an abortion except on medical advice for the purpose of saving the mother’s life unconstitutional?

Rule: The Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides a “right to privacy” that protects a pregnant woman’s choice whether to have an abortion. However, this right is not absolute and must be balanced against the government’s interests in protecting women’s health and prenatal life.

Application: The Supreme Court analyzed the right to privacy in the context of abortion and found that the Texas statutes were overly broad and vague, infringing on this fundamental right. The Court established a trimester framework to balance the state’s interest against the woman’s privacy rights, allowing states to regulate abortion procedures in the interests of the mother’s health in the second trimester and in the interests of the potential fetal life in the third trimester.

Conclusion: The Supreme Court held that the Texas statutes criminalizing abortion in all instances except those in which the life of the mother is at stake were unconstitutional. The Court ruled that a woman has a fundamental right to an abortion during the first trimester of pregnancy, subject to minimal state regulation to ensure the procedure is safely performed.

Detailed IRAC Outline


  • Whether the constitutional right to privacy extends to a woman’s decision to have an abortion.
  • The scope of state power to regulate abortions in the interests of the mother’s health and the protection of prenatal life.


  • The 14th Amendment’s concept of personal liberty and restrictions upon state action includes a fundamental right to privacy, which encompasses a woman’s decision to terminate her pregnancy.
  • The state’s legitimate interests in regulating abortions arise from its goals to safeguard health and protect potential life.



  • Roe, a pseudonym for Jane Roe, a Texas resident, sought to terminate her pregnancy.
  • Texas law prohibited abortions except to save the pregnant woman’s life.
  • Roe filed suit against Wade, the district attorney of Dallas County, alleging the statutes were unconstitutionally vague and abridged her right to personal privacy, protected by the First, Fourth, Fifth, Ninth, and Fourteenth Amendments.

Lower Court Rulings

  • The district court ruled that the statutes were vague and violated Roe’s right to privacy. However, it refused to grant an injunction against the enforcement of the laws.

Supreme Court Analysis

  • The Court recognized the right to privacy as “broad enough to encompass a woman’s decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy.”
  • The right to privacy is not unqualified and must be considered against important state interests in regulation.
  • The Court rejected the notion that the constitutional right to privacy is absolute in its scope and application.
  • In assessing the state’s interest in regulating abortions and protecting health and prenatal life, the Court established a trimester framework.

Trimester Framework

  • During the first trimester, the abortion decision must be left to the medical judgment of the pregnant woman’s attending physician.
  • In the second trimester, the state may regulate the abortion procedure only as reasonably related to maternal health.
  • Once the fetus has reached viability, usually at the beginning of the third trimester, the state may regulate and even proscribe abortion, except where necessary for the preservation of the mother’s life or health.


  • The Supreme Court concluded that the Texas statutes were unconstitutional, as they encroached on the fundamental right to privacy, including the right of a woman to choose to have an abortion.
  • The decision established guidelines for state regulation of abortion but reaffirmed that during the first trimester, the abortion decision and its effectuation must be left to the medical judgment of the pregnant woman’s attending physician.

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