A state criminal abortion statute that excepts from criminality only a lifesaving procedure on behalf of the mother, without regard to pregnancy stage and without recognition of the other interests involved, is violative of the U.S. Const. amend. XIV. For the stage prior to approximately the end of the first trimester, the abortion decision and its effectuation must be left to the medical judgment of the pregnant woman's attending physician. For the stage subsequent to approximately the end of the first trimester, the state, in promoting its interest in the health of the mother, may, if it chooses, regulate the abortion procedure in ways that are reasonably related to maternal health. For the stage subsequent to viability, the state in promoting its interest in the potentiality of human life may, if it chooses, regulate, and even proscribe, abortion except where it is necessary, in appropriate medical judgment, for the preservation of the life or health of the mother.
A pregnant single woman (Roe) brought an action for declaratory judgment challenging the constitutionality of the Texas criminal abortion laws, which prohibit abortions except on medical advice for the purpose of saving the mother's life. Roe alleged that she was unable to receive a legal abortion because her life was not endangered by her pregnancy. The District Court held that the right to choose whether to have children was protected by the Ninth Amendment, through the Fourteenth Amendment and that the Texas criminal abortion statutes were void because they were unconstitutionally vague and overbroad. All parties took protective appeals to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, which ordered the appeals be held in abeyance pending decision on the appeal taken by all parties to the United States Supreme Court.
Does the 14th amendment protect a woman’s right to privacy, such that there is a constitutionally protected right to abortion?
The court held that the right to privacy encompasses a woman's decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy, but a woman's right to terminate her pregnancy is not absolute, and may be limited by the state's legitimate interests in safeguarding the woman's health, in maintaining proper medical standards, and in protecting potential human life. The court set forth the following: prior to the end of the first trimester of pregnancy, the state may not interfere with or regulate an attending physician's decision, reached in consultation with his patient, that the patient's pregnancy should be terminated; from and after the end of the first trimester, and until the point in time when the fetus becomes viable, the state may regulate the abortion procedure only to the extent that such regulation relates to the preservation and protection of maternal health; from and after the point in time when the fetus becomes viable, the state may prohibit abortions altogether, except those necessary to preserve the life or health of the mother, and the state may proscribe the performance of all abortions except those performed by physicians currently licensed by the state.