In 1973, the Supreme Court decided Roe v. Wade, providing federal protections for the right to get an abortion. This right was upheld for decades. But in a 2022 case, the court removed the protections provided by Roe v. Wade and left the right to an abortion up to the states to decide.
This section includes:
- Summaries of abortion law throughout U.S. history
- A breakdown of specific abortion-related laws in various states
- Detailed coverage of Roe v. Wade
- An explanation of parental consent law
You'll also find other resources related to abortion and your rights under the law.
Roe v. Wade
Any discussion of abortion in the United States must include the landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade. This case was the first in U.S. history that established a constitutional right to an abortion.
An unmarried pregnant Texas woman sought an abortion, but Texas law denied her. She challenged the law in federal court, which determined three important things:
- The constitutional right to privacy prevented states from banning abortion.
- States have an interest in ensuring the safety and well-being of pregnant people and potential human life.
- A fetus is not a person protected by the Constitution.
The Supreme Court, looking to balance the rights of the individual against the state's interest in protecting human life, divided pregnancy into three 12-week trimesters. The Court provided for different treatment depending on the stage of pregnancy:
- First trimester: A state cannot regulate abortion beyond requiring that a licensed doctor perform the procedure in medically safe conditions.
- Second trimester: A state may regulate abortion if the regulations are reasonably related to the pregnant person's health.
- Third trimester: A state's interest in protecting the potential human life outweighs the pregnant person's or woman's right to privacy. States could prohibit abortions that were unnecessary to save the mother's life or health.
In 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health, placing abortion regulation decisions back with the states.
State Abortion Laws
Common restrictions on abortion rights often place social pressure on pregnant people. Such restrictions include:
- Counseling requirements
- Waiting periods
- Required viewing of ultrasounds
- Parental involvement in abortions sought by minors
Other restrictions create procedural obstacles to abortion access, such as:
- Bans on "partial-birth" abortions
- Prohibitions on public funding
- Exemption from private insurance coverage
- Doctor or hospital requirements
- Gestational limits
Both advocates and opponents of abortion continue to fundraise, lobby, and litigate the issue. As such, further legislation and litigation will likely arise in the coming years.
Since laws among states vary significantly and because changes in the law are likely, it is important to check your state's current abortion laws for specific and timely information.
People discuss the issue of access to abortion as one of women's rights. First, not only women have the biological capacity to reproduce. Cisgender women, transgender men, and some nonbinary people have this biological capacity. At the same time, restrictions on access to abortion can have consequences for everyone's due process and privacy rights.
In Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments protect the right to choose. To summarize, SCOTUS decided that a person's right to privacy must be protected under those amendments when making the medical choice of pursuing an abortion.
By extension, this applies to medical choices in a general sense. According to the Court in Roe, a person should be free from governmental interference when they pursue care from a licensed medical professional. But without constitutional protection for a right to privacy and body autonomy, many fear the floodgates could open, and states could restrict more than abortion.
When the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe in 2022, the Court claimed that no protections for the right to abortion ever existed in the U.S. Constitution. The majority overturned Roe, thus compromising the rights to privacy that entitle a person to make medical choices like obtaining an abortion.
While SCOTUS' overturning of Roe v. Wade has not caused an outright ban on abortion across the United States, it has allowed the states to decide the issue for themselves. It's important to note that abortions are still legal in many states.
Learn About Abortion
Background — Learn the definition of abortion and how current abortion law developed from the common law of England to the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Roe v. Wade.
Abortion Laws — There are several different ways to abort a fetus. This article explains the definitions and legal requirements for each one. It also covers a few abortion-related medical terms.
Abortion Rights FAQ — Find answers to frequently asked questions about abortion, including what to do when parents disagree about abortion, the legal rights of fetuses, and whether and when abortions are legal.
Roe v. Wade — Read about the most important case in abortion law — who the parties were, why they went to court, and what the outcome meant for generations of women and pregnant people.
After Roe v. Wade — Roe v. Wade was the first U.S. Supreme Court decision to give women and pregnant people the right to choose. Find out how abortion law continues to evolve in this article.
Birth Control and the Law Basics — Birth control has a long history. The right to access birth control results from many political activists' hard work. Read about its history and the state of birth control rights today.
Mifepristone and Medication Abortions — At this FDA resource, you'll find information about medication abortions and mifepristone, the most commonly used of two medications for terminating pregnancies.
Alternatives to Getting Abortions with Public Health Insurance — It's still possible for you to get an abortion and reproductive health care, even if you do not have adequate insurance or any insurance at all. You can do so through groups like Planned Parenthood. Organizations like Planned Parenthood are health care providers specializing in reproductive health care. Groups like this provide a variety of medical treatments on sliding scales. If you are a qualifying low-income person, you could receive reduced-cost medical care. It is also possible to receive health care services of a more general nature through these groups.
Center for Reproductive Rights — This nonprofit organization advocates and has initiatives geared toward reproductive rights. It's a useful resource for navigating any reproductive rights-related issue. It can help you preserve your rights to access abortions. Groups like this aim to protect bodily autonomy. They even can help you find reproductive health services and safe abortions. As unsafe abortions have had tremendous negative consequences for public health, groups like these provide services to advance community interests.
You Don't Have To Solve This on Your Own — Get a Lawyer's Help
Remember that no abortion bans are in effect across the United States in all jurisdictions. You can still find abortion providers in many places. Abortion services are still widely available. Your health —mental health and physical — are important. Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights.
Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help. If you are struggling with an issue related to getting an abortion, you must contact an attorney. But it's also important that you get the medical care you need.
Abortion access has not been entirely restricted and eliminated. Outside the option of abortion, contraception is also still an option. And remember that legal abortions are still available. There has been no universal criminalization of abortion or abortion care. While concerns about overly restrictive abortion laws have grown since the overturning of Roe v. Wade, it's important to remember that it is still legal to get an abortion in many states.
Can I Solve This on My Own or Do I Need an Attorney?
- The laws surrounding reproductive rights vary by state
- You may need legal help to understand frequent changes to these laws
- An attorney can help you protect your reproductive rights
Get tailored advice about your rights and ask a lawyer questions. Many attorneys offer free consultations.