ABORTION RULINGS OF THE SUPREME COURT
This research paper summarizes the rulings of the Supreme Court regarding abortion since the early 1970s and examines the factors which have influenced the stance of the Court, including its composition. Through its decision in Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973), the Court established a limited constitutional right of pregnant women to choose to have an abortion. Subsequently, that right has been substantially abridged, especially during the latter phases of the Warren Burger-led Court (1969-1986) and, even more so by the Rehnquist Court. The more conservative orientation of the late Burger and Rehnquist Courts is reflected in the Court's rulings; however, pro-choice and pro-life beliefs and orientations have produced in the 1990s an unstable compromise or standstill concerning the circumstances under which abortion can be regulated by state or federal laws. Overall, the Court's rulings have roughly approximated public sentiment on abortion in the United States.
State of Abortion Law in 1973. A preponderance of states made the performance of an abortion a criminal offense; however, 25 states permitted abortions if necessary to save the mother's life, 11 others also where pregnancy resulted from rape or incest and five others (Alaska, Hawaii, New York, Oregon and Washington) on broader grounds, such as to protect the mother's health or, in the case of New York, without restriction before the 24th week of pregnancy (Roe v. Wade, Footnotes 34 & 35; Platt, 1980, p. 111).
Even though the Court led by Chief Justice Earl Warren (1951-1969) had treated the Constitution "as an instrument of social reform, [and] . . . had restlessly pursued an agenda of innovation," the first Supreme Court ruling establishing a pregnant's woman's constitutional right to have an abortion was made by the more conservative Burger Court (Landynski, 1991, p. 276). The initial Burger Court contained several appointees o...