Roe v. Wade: Texas Then and Now

“Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the Court: It’s an old joke, but when a man argues against two beautiful ladies like this, they are going to have the last word.”

Supreme Court, 1973

Supreme Court, 1973

Thus Jay Floyd, Texas assistant attorney general, opened his December 1971 oral argument in Roe v. Wade, as his adversary attorneys Sarah Weddington and Linda Coffee sat nearby (no doubt dumbfounded) after Weddington had presented their argument for women’s abortion rights.

Wisely, the Texas reargument in 1972 opened with no attempt at humor. (When Roe was first argued, the Supreme Court consisted of only seven justices. Because the decision would be so historic, the Supreme Court decided to hear arguments a second time when all nine justices were in place the following year.) Then, on January 22, 1973, the Supreme Court decided that a woman’s right to an abortion was constitutionally protected and the 1854 Texas law at issue was struck down, along with abortion laws in 45 other states. (The Texas gentleman was right: The Texas ladies did have the last word.)


What will the Supreme Court bring us this year? “Don’t Mess with Texas” or “Don’t Mess with Women”?


So, as we approach the 43rd anniversary of Roe v. Wade this Friday, let’s mosey down memory lane. How did we get to that landmark decision, and where might we be going this year with a new Texas case testing abortion rights, Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole?

Throughout history, abortion has been a common practice. At the time of the adoption of the U.S. Constitution in 1787, abortion was legal in all states. Prior to the mid-1800s legal scholars were not proposing abortion laws, nor advocating “personhood” of an unborn child, nor asserting abortion control on medical safety or any other grounds. Continue reading

Roe v. Wade: An Overview

The name of the case Roe v. Wade is familiar to many people in the United States. So is its main impact, to establish a constitutional right to abortion — which it did exactly 40 years ago today.

That said, many fewer people know the details, both of the factual case and of the case’s finding. Do you?

What did abortion law look like at the time?

At the time the facts immediately behind the case started, abortion statutes varied by state, though most states restricted abortion significantly. In Texas, where Norma McCorvey (“Jane Roe”) lived, the law prohibited “procuring or attempting an abortion” except to save the mother’s life.

Who was “Jane Roe,” and why did she sue?

“Jane Roe” was Norma McCorvey, a single woman who learned she was pregnant. In 1970, Linda Coffee and Sarah Weddington brought suit on her behalf under the alias of Jane Roe. They asserted that the Texas law violated the Constitution on the grounds “that the Texas Abortion Laws deprive married couples and single women of the right to choose whether to have children” (N.D. Texas Opinion of U.S. District Court June (17,) (1970) – Per Curiam:). Continue reading