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Posted: September 6th, 2023

How did the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Roe v Wade “balance”

How did the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Roe v Wade “balance” the interests of the woman to obtain an abortion and the state in protecting the woman’s health and potential life of the unborn fetus? How have later cases challenged that “balance”?

In the landmark case of Roe v. Wade in 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court recognized that a woman’s constitutional right to privacy includes the decision to have an abortion. The Court’s decision aimed to strike a balance between the woman’s interest in making decisions about her reproductive health and the state’s interest in protecting both the woman’s health and the potential life of the unborn fetus.

In Roe v. Wade, the Court established a trimester framework to balance these interests. During the first trimester, the Court held that the decision to have an abortion should be solely between the woman and her doctor, without undue interference from the state. In the second trimester, the state could regulate abortion to protect the woman’s health but could not impose an “undue burden” on her right to access abortion. During the third trimester, when the fetus is considered viable, the state’s interest in protecting potential life becomes more compelling, and it can prohibit abortion except when necessary to preserve the woman’s life or health.

Later cases have challenged this balance set forth in Roe v. Wade. One significant case is Planned Parenthood v. Casey in 1992. In Casey, the Supreme Court reaffirmed the core holding of Roe but modified the trimester framework. The Court replaced it with the “undue burden” standard, which allows states to regulate abortion as long as the regulations do not impose an undue burden on a woman’s right to access abortion. This standard gave states more leeway in regulating abortion, resulting in various state-imposed restrictions that limit access to abortion services.

Another notable case is Gonzales v. Carhart in 2007, where the Court upheld the federal Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act. This decision marked a departure from previous rulings as it allowed the government to ban a specific abortion procedure without requiring an exception for the woman’s health. Some critics argue that this decision weakened the balance established in Roe v. Wade and gave the state more power to restrict abortion rights.

Over the years, there have been numerous legal challenges to abortion restrictions at the state level. These cases have involved issues such as mandatory waiting periods, targeted regulation of abortion providers (TRAP) laws, restrictions on late-term abortions, and limitations on public funding for abortion. These challenges often center around the question of whether the restrictions impose an undue burden on a woman’s right to access abortion or whether they are aimed at unduly burdening or even eliminating that right.

It’s important to note that the balance between the woman’s right to obtain an abortion and the state’s interest in regulating it is an ongoing and contentious issue in American law and society. The Supreme Court’s composition and future rulings will continue to shape the legal landscape surrounding abortion rights in the United States.

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