Roe v. Wade: Ethical Position Argument
In 1973, the United States Supreme Court heard the case of "Jane Roe" filed in 1970 on behalf of an unidentified woman against District Attorney Henry Wade, then representing the state of Texas. By the time the appeal from district court was entertained by the Supreme Court, the case was actually moot, by virtue of the fact that Roe had already given birth. However, under a doctrine first articulated by the Court more than 60 years earlier, the Court heard the case because the issue was one "capable of repetition yet evading review" (Hall, 1992), reasoning that rejection for mootness would amount to bar against any cases brought by pregnant women, since human gestation was always likely to be shorter than the appeal process to the Court.
The Roe Court decided against the state of Texas, invalidating state penal laws against abortion by a 7 -2 margin. The central point of the landmark decision was that there is a constitutional right to abortion as an element of personal privacy under due process guaranteed under those freedoms specifically left to the people under the Constitution. The Roe decision is considered part of a series of privacy cases that included Griswold V. Connecticut, which established that a "penumbra" of privacy emanated from the Constitution (Miller, 1988).
The Roe decision distinguished three "trimesters" of human gestation, outlining different rules and rights of pregnant women depending on the specific trimester at issue in any particular case. According to those standards, a constitutional right to abortion applied to pregnancy throughout the first trimester of pregnancy; the state maintained a qualified right to regulate abortion reasonably during the second trimester provided they were not contrary to the woman's health; and a less restrictive right to limit abortions during the third trimester, provided they allowed abortions deemed necessary for the woman's health by medical standards (Abrams & Buckner, 1989).
Since Roe, abortion has continually been argued in subsequent cases over state laws requiring waiting periods and notification of spouses and/or parents, where minors are involved. So-called "Pro-Life" groups lobby strongly for laws designed to chip away at Roe, and the next conservative majority in the Supreme Court could very well overturn
Roe, returning to state legislatures the right to criminalize all abortion not required for medically emergent reasons. If that were to happen, women in some states would once again have to choose between traveling to the nearest state where the procedure was legal and the back-alley abortions common in the 19th century, with all their associated risks and complications, in addition to the prospect of criminal prosecution (Reiman, 1999).
There are two main arguments against abortion, one of which is grounded in constitutional principles of liberty and self-determination in religious matters; the other is based on the rights (both ethical and those defined by law) of the fetus to protection by the state under the established definition of due process.
Legal Argument Supporting the Roe Decision:
One of the main principles upon which the U.S. Constitution was founded is the fundamental separation of Church and State. Centuries under British rule and social oppression under color of authority by the English Church left the Founding Fathers determined not to structure the new government of the independent states that incorporated religious influences on civil law. Inspired by that concept as well as the companion belief that religious determination should be a private matter not subject to governmental regulation or prescription, the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution specifically sets forth religious freedom and self-determination.
The logical origin of the antiabortion position lies in the religious belief that human life (and therefore, the human "soul," supposedly in the "image of God") begins at the very instant of conception, without reference to the degree of development of the fetus. For the same reason, the Catholic Church also considers "spilling seed" through masturbation to be a sin, even without the issue of any fertilized ovum. This position is patently unconstitutional, because it infuses religious beliefs into the rule of law.
Nevertheless, there is one possible objection to abortion rights that is grounded in constitutional principles.
The Due Process Clause of the Constitution extends Fourth Amendment protection of "life and liberty" to a growing fetus at some point between being merely a fertilized human ovum with the potential to develop further and being a living person entitled to full constitutional rights and protections under U.S. law. The…