In the second half of the 20th century, people’s ideas about sexual relationships began to change and become more liberal. Women could get birth control more easily and some states made it easier to get abortions.
However, these changes also created problems. Some poor women who
lived in a state that outlawed abortion could not travel to get
treatment. Some people said that this was not fair. Abortion laws were
sometimes vague, so that doctors did not know
when they were breaking the law. Also, some people said that the
government should not tell people what to do in sexual relations. They
said this was an invasion of privacy.
The U.S. Constitution does not say clearly that there is a right to
privacy. However, the Supreme Court had said in other cases that a
person has a right to privacy in particular places, like the home. In
the case of Griswold v. Connecticut (1965), the
Supreme Court said that Connecticut could not stop married couples from
getting birth control. The Court said that families have a right to
privacy in their decisions about having children and sexual
relationships. The Court said that privacy was a basic value that is
important for all the rights in the Bill of Rights.
Jane Roe (not her real name) was unmarried and pregnant and lived in
Texas. She wanted to have an abortion, but according to Texas law she
could not have an abortion unless her life was in danger. Roe
challenged the law by suing Wade, the district attorney where she
Roe argued that she had a right to privacy and should be able to
decide whether to have an abortion or not. She argued that the right to
privacy comes from combining several other rights listed in the Bill of
Rights. The state argued that “the right to life of the unborn child
is superior to the right to privacy of the mother.” The state also
argued that this is a topic that should be left to the legislatures to
decide how to handle. A three-judge federal district court ruled the
Texas abortion law unconstitutional. The case was then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Questions to Consider
What Texas law was Roe challenging?
What were two problems with abortion laws?
Where does the Constitution state that you have a right to privacy?
What arguments did each side make?