On this day, January 22, 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court, in the famous Roe v. Wade decision, stated that the “right of privacy…founded in the Fourteenth Amendment’s concept of personal liberty…is broad enough to encompass a woman’s decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy.” The Court held that through the end of the first trimester of pregnancy, only a pregnant woman and her doctor have the legal right to make the decision about an abortion. States can restrict second-trimester abortions only in the interest of the woman’s safety. Protection of a “viable fetus” (able to survive outside the womb) is allowed only during the third trimester. If a pregnant woman’s life or health is endangered, she cannot be forced to continue the pregnancy.
Though Roe v. Wade left a lot of power to doctors and to government, it was an important victory for women. Although the decision did not guarantee that women would be able to get abortions when they wanted to, legalization and the growing consciousness of women’s needs brought better, safer abortion services. For the women who had access to legal abortions, severe infections, fever, and hemorrhaging from illegal or self- induced abortions became a thing of the past. Women health care workers improved their abortion techniques. Some commercial clinics hired feminist abortion activists to do counseling. Local women’s groups set up public referral services, and women in some areas organized women-controlled nonprofit abortion facilities. These efforts turned out to be just the beginning of a longer struggle to preserve legal abortion and to make it accessible to all women.