Prior to 1973, abortions were permitted in certain states but restricted or almost banned in others. Every state legislature created its own rules. There was no consistency across the U.S. Then, in 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court delivered one of its most famous and influential rulings: Roe v. Wade. It declared a Texas anti-abortion statute unconstitutional and thereby affected abortion laws in many other states. 1
The Supreme Court justices determined that, anywhere in the U.S.:
•During the first three months of pregnancy, a woman and her physician may jointly decide to terminate a pregnancy. No significant state interference is allowed.
•Later in pregnancy, states can restrict abortion access with laws but only if they are intended to protect the woman's health.
•Once the fetus is viable, an abortion must still be available if the woman's health or life are at risk. State governments are free to pass legislation that will allow or prohibit late-term abortions -- those on a viable fetus -- for other reasons.
Other regulations covering abortion access:
The regulations of the state's medical association usually place an additional level of restriction on physicians who perform abortions. The regulations typically prohibit late-term pregnancy terminations except for serious medical reasons. Each association places a gestational limit beyond which abortions are generally prohibited -- e.g. 20 or 22 weeks. A physician who violated these regulations would risk having their license to practice medicine terminated or suspended.
The basis of the Roe v. Wade decision:
The Supreme Court based its abortion access decision on the right of personal privacy which the court finds implicit in the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
"Due process of law is a legal concept that ensures the government will respect all of a person's legal rights instead of just some or most of those legal rights, when the government deprives a person of life, liberty, or property. Due process has also been interpreted as placing limitations on laws and legal proceedings in order to guarantee fundamental fairness, justice and liberty" to all citizens”. 2
The Supreme Court has determined that the due process clause implies that governments cannot pass legislation that intrudes too deeply into the personal life of its citizens. There are limits to the ability of states to control personal behavior.
Section 1 of the 14th Amendment states:
"All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws." (The due process clause is emphasized)” 3
Under this clause, the U.S. Supreme Court has "...recognized such rights and the right to ...