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Roe V. Wade

1973 Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton Decisions Legalized Abortion in the U.S. for theFull Nine Months of Pregnancy

Prior to 1967, abortion was prohibited in all 50 states except when the mother’s life was in danger. Between 1967 and 1973, 18 states added further exceptions, mostly to allow abortion in cases of rape and incest, or for certain limited medical reasons, or on demand (New York).

In 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court rendered two decisions, Roe v. Wade 1 and Doe v. Bolton 2 which, taken together, have allowed legal abortion on demand at any stage of pregnancy in all 50 states. The two original decisions established legal abortion as follows:

  1. In the first three months of pregnancy, no one can interfere with a
    woman’s decision to abort her child.
  2. After the first three months, but before the “viability” of the unborn
    child, an individual state can enact laws to protect the health of the mother but cannot prohibit the abortion of the unborn child.
  3. After “viability” of the unborn child, an individual state can, if it chooses
    to do so, enact laws to protect the unborn child but abortion must be allowed if the life or “health” of the mother is at stake. The Supreme Court defined “health” as “the medical judgment that may be exercised in light of all factors – physical, emotional, psychological, familial, and the woman’s age –relevant to the well-being of the patient. All these factors may relate to health.” 2

Consequently, the broad definition of “health” has made abortion legal up to the moment of birth.


1. Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113
2. Doe v. Bolton, 410 U.S. 179 (1973)