On this day in history, the United States Supreme Court issued its decision on Roe v. Wade. Jan. 22, 1973, was the day that the Supreme Court voted to decriminalize abortion, making the procedure legal for doctors to perform in the United States.
Abortion Was Not Always Seen as Immoral
The termination of pregnancies, or "abortion," was legal before this date in the United States. From the early 1700s to the early 1800s, abortion was a term used to describe the practice of ending a pregnancy after "quickening," when the baby fetus began to show signs of movement. During the 1700s, it was not uncommon for women to take special drugs that would induce a miscarriage to end the pregnancy. Before the early 1700s, abortion did not have a specific name, but it was actually quite common and it was not seen as immoral.
Later in 1827, Illinois enacted legislation making the use of abortion medication illegal and punishable with up to three years in prison. Other states followed suit, but women still bought and used this medication, known as "Female Monthly Pills," well into the middle 1800s.
It was from 1860 to 1880 that surgical abortion procedures were criminalized. Some say that the procedure was outlawed not for moral reasons but as a result of the creation of a new physicians' trade organization called the American Medical Association (AMA). According to some views, the AMA saw abortion practitioners as competition that needed to be eliminated. The Catholic Church joined forces with the doctors, even though the church did not previously view the termination of pregnancies prior to quickening as immoral.
By the year 1900, every state in the Union had passed anti-abortion laws. Nevertheless, these laws were not typically enforced. Women of means never had a difficult time obtaining abortion services. Later, though, in the 1930s, states began to enforce abortion laws. The enforcement of the laws inspired reform movements, which later succeeded with the decision in Roe v. Wade, in which the United States Supreme Court decriminalized the practice of abortion.
The Debate Over Abortion Continues
Although the battle over whether or not abortion should be allowed rages on, opinion polls show that it is not likely to be re-criminalized any time soon -- especially with regard to early term abortions. Most Americans appear to agree that the decision to have an early term abortion should be the woman's decision.
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