Roe v. Wade – Visual Guide (Pt. 3/3) | Wardenclyffe Academy
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Roe v. Wade – Visual Guide (Pt. 3/3) | Wardenclyffe Academy


Before applying these conclusions in detail
to the issue of abortion and then measuring that application against Texas’ criminal
abortion laws to determine their constitutionality, the Supreme Court briefly considered Wade’s
arguments. Citing the well-known facts of fetal development,
Wade first argued that the unborn are persons “within the language and meaning of the
Fourteenth Amendment” which would make the unborn’s right to life guaranteed by the
Amendment. However, the Supreme Court was not persuaded by this argument for three reasons.
First, it observed that there had been no cases in which the unborn were considered
persons within the meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment. Second, it could only find support
for the term “person” in the constitution having a postnatal application. And third,
it noted that, in the 19th century, “prevailing legal abortion practices were far freer than
they are today.” All of this considered, the Supreme Court was not persuaded that the
meaning of the word “person” in the Fourteenth Amendment includes the unborn. Wade then argued that, the Fourteenth Amendment
aside, the State has a compelling interest in protecting the unborn since life begins
at conception and remains present throughout pregnancy. In response to this argument, the
Supreme Court refused to answer the question of when life begins, citing the absence of
agreement in the fields of medicine, philosophy, and theology, and noting that the law has
never recognized the unborn as persons in a complete sense. In considering the arguments from both sides,
the Supreme Court ruled that, by adopting one view of life, Texas violated the pregnant
mother’s 14th Amendment privacy right to an abortion. However, the Supreme Court also
acknowledged that protecting the health of the pregnant mother and protecting potential
human life are important and legitimate state interests, with each becoming compelling at
a particular point during a woman’s pregnancy. Regarding the State’s interest in protecting
the health of the mother, the Supreme Court decided that the compelling point is around
the end of the first trimester, citing how until the end of the first trimester mother
fatality in abortion may be less than mother fatality in normal childbirth. After this
compelling point, the State may regulate the qualifications and licensing of persons and
facilities that provide abortion, and the like. Regarding the State’s interest in protecting
potential life, the Supreme Court decided that the compelling point is at ‘viability,’
or the capacity for the fetus to have meaningful life outside the mother’s womb. From the
point at which the fetus is viable, the State may prohibit abortion, except when it is necessary
to protect the life or health of the mother. This leaves, of course, the period before
the end of the first trimester. Regarding this period, the Supreme Court decided that
the abortion decision is between the pregnant woman and her physician. Applying these standards to Art. 1196 of Texas’
Penal Code, which limited legal abortion only to those cases where it was necessary to save
the life of the mother, the Supreme Court concluded that Art. 1196 swept too broadly.
It made no distinction between abortions performed early in pregnancy and those performed later,
and provided only one legal justification for abortion. Therefore, the Supreme Court
struck down Art. 1196 of Texas’ Penal Code as unconstitutional. By striking down Art. 1196 of Texas’ Penal
Code, the Supreme Court felt it was unnecessary to consider Roe’s argument that Art. 1196
was unconstitutionally vague. But the Supreme Court did find it necessary to also strike
down Art. 1191-1194 of Texas’ Penal Code, noting that failure to do so would have left
Texas’ criminal abortion laws intact and prohibited all abortions no matter how urgent
the medical need. The Supreme Court granted Roe declaratory
relief, but not injunctive relief, believing that Texas’ prosecutorial authorities would
abide by its decision.

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