Brief, informational booklet highlighting
15 basic facts about Roe v. Wade
or its impact.
||myth: “High Court Rules Abortions Legal the First 3 Months.”
||FACT: Abortion is legal through all 9 months of pregnancy.
In Roe v. Wade the Supreme Court ruled that abortion may not be restricted at all in
the first trimester. In the second trimester abortion may be regulated
only for the mother’s health. After “viability,” abortion
may be prohibited except where necessary to preserve the
mother’s health. 
Roe’s companion case, Doe v. Bolton,defined maternal “health” as: “all factors - physical,
emotional, psychological, familial, and the woman’s
age - relevant to the well-being of the patient.”
Thus, abortion is legal -- and cannot be
prohibited -- in the 7th, 8th, or 9th months of pregnancy
if any of these reasons is invoked.
“[N]o significant legal barriers
of any kind whatsoever exist today in the United States
for a woman to obtain an abortion for any reason during
any stage of her pregnancy.”
||myth: Most abortions are done because of maternal or fetal health
problems, or in cases of rape or incest.
||FACT: Abortions are rarely done for these reasons.
According to an Alan Guttmacher Institute
survey, women cite these as the main reason for an abortion
in a very small percentage of cases each year:
- 1% “rape
- 3% “woman
has health problem” (physical or mental)
- 3% “fetus
has possible health problem”
For all other abortions, the main reason
- 21% “unready
- 21% “can't
afford baby now”
- 16% “concerned
about how having a baby could change her life”
- 12% “has
problems with relationship or wants to avoid single parenthood”
- 11% “is
not mature enough, or is too young to have a child”
- 8% “has
all the children she wanted, or has all grown-up children”
- 1% “husband
or partner wants woman to have abortion”
- 1% “doesn't
want others to know she has had sex or is pregnant”
- <0.5% “woman's
parents want her to have abortion”
- 3% “other”
Under Roe v. Wade, abortions for these reasons or any other reason must be legally permitted.
||myth: Most Americans favor U.S. abortion law.
||FACT: Most Americans actually oppose it.
A recent Harris Interactive poll claims 52%
of Americans favor Roe v. Wade and 47% oppose it. But the poll describes Roe as "the U.S. Supreme Court decision making abortions up to three
months of pregnancy legal."
That's wrong. The fact is, Roe made abortion legal through all 9 months of pregnancy.
In the same poll, 72% of Americans said abortion
should be illegal in the second
three months of pregnancy, and 86% said abortion should
be illegal in the last three
months of pregnancy.
Even support for abortion in the first three
months is open to question. In a 2004 Zogby International
poll, 61% of Americans said abortion should not be permitted
after the fetal heartbeat has begun. This
occurs in the first month.
So why do 52% of Americans say they favor Roe
Because they don't really know what
||Roe said the Constitution
includes a right to abortion.
||Yet even legal commentators who support legal abortion have said Roe is
not good constitutional law.
Roe v. Wade is "a very bad decision...because
it is not constitutional law
and gives almost no sense of an obligation to try to be."
- John Hart Ely, Yale Law School professor
"As a matter of constitutional interpretation
and judicial method, Roe borders on the indefensible… [It is] one of the most intellectually
suspect constitutional decisions of the modern era."
- Edward Lazarus, former
clerk to Justice Blackmun (who authored Roe)
"Since its inception Roe has
had a deep legitimacy problem, stemming from its weakness
as a legal opinion."
- Benjamin Wittes, Washington Post legal
affairs editorial writer
"One of the most curious things about Roe is
that, behind its own verbal smokescreen, the substantive
judgment on which it rests is nowhere to be found."
- Laurence Tribe, Harvard Law School
#5 Supreme Court justices have criticized Roe v. Wade.
"I find nothing in the language or history
of the Constitution to support the Court's judgment"
in Roe v. Wade.
- Justice Byron White
"This Court's abortion decisions have
already worked a major distortion in the Court's constitutional
jurisprudence…no legal rule or doctrine is safe
from ad hoc nullification by this Court
… in a case involving state regulation of abortion."
- Justice Sandra Day O'Connor
Roe v. Wade "destroyed the compromises of the past, [and] rendered compromise
impossible for the future… [T]o portray Roe as the statesmanlike 'settlement' of a divisive issue…is nothing
less than Orwellian."
- Justice Antonin Scalia
Roe v. Wade "was grievously wrong."
- Justice Clarence Thomas
"Roe v. Wade…ventured too far in the change it ordered and presented an incomplete
justification for its action."
-Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg
||myth: The U.S. abortion rate is relatively low.
||FACT: It is among the highest of all developed countries in the world.
In 1973 the Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade deemed "every [abortion] law - even the most liberal - as unconstitutional."
Today the U.S. has the highest abortion rate in the western world, and
the third-highest of all developed nations worldwide.
There are 1.31 million induced abortions annually in the U.S., or 3,500 every day.
24.5% of all U.S. pregnancies end in abortion or 3,500 every day; 24.5%
of all U.S. pregnancies end in abortion. 
||myth: Most American women support Roe v.
||FACT: Most do not.
Roe v. Wade legalized abortion throughout pregnancy, for virtually any reason.
Yet according to a national survey of women
published by the Center for Gender Equality, "only
30% think abortion should be generally available."
In fact, most women say abortion should be substantially limited or never permitted:
- 17% said abortion should never be permitted.
- 34% said abortion should be permitted only in cases of rape, incest,
and to save the woman's life.
And when asked to rank 12 issues in order
of importance for the women's movement, women ranked
"Keeping abortion legal" next to last.
||myth: Most abortions are done before fetal organs
||FACT: Actually, the vast majority are done after the fetal
heart has begun beating.
A fetal heart begins to beat at
about 21 or 22 days after fertilization.
That's at about 3 weeks of development.
77% of abortions in the United
States are done well after this point.
||myth: U.S. abortion law has not encouraged the
use of abortion as a method of birth control.
||FACT: Nearly half of all abortions are performed on women
who have already had at least one.
Today, 48% of women having an abortion in
the United States have had at least one previous abortion.
In some states the rate of repeat abortions
is much higher.
In Maryland, for example, 71.4% of those
having an abortion
have already had at least one. And 16.4%
have had at least three prior abortions.
PLEASE NOTE: Reality Check #10, first written in 2005, has been updated in light of the Supreme Court’s majority decision in Gonzalez v. Carhart (April 2007).
||myth: Abortion is legal only when the fetus
is in the womb.
||FACT: Even a child who is partially-born can be legally
Partial-birth abortion kills a fetus during the
process of delivery.
At first, abortion providers said it was
rare, and used only on women whose lives were in danger or
whose fetuses were damaged.
But Ron Fitzsimmons, then the Executive Director
of the National Coalition of Abortion Providers, admitted
he had "lied through my teeth."
He admitted that most partial-birth abortions
are not done for "extreme circumstances" but
are "primarily done on healthy women and healthy
In 2000 the Supreme Court said states cannot ban
partial-birth abortion even with an exception to save the
The Court said such a ban violates "the
woman's right to choose" established by Roe v. Wade.
In the April 2007 case, Gonzales vs. Carhart, the Court upheld a federal ban on partial-birth abortion, saying it is not unconstitutionally vague, and does not impose an undue burden on a woman's right to an abortion. The ban defines partial-birth abortion in terms of precise anatomical markers, depending on whether the fetus is delivered head-first or in a breach presentation. A partial-birth abortion is an abortion procedure in which the practitioner:
"(A) deliberately and intentionally vaginally delivers a living fetus until, in the case of a head-first presentation, the entire fetal head is outside the body of the mother, or, in the case of breech presentation, any part of the fetal trunk past the navel is outside the body of the mother, for the purpose of performing an overt act that the person knows will kill the partially delivered living fetus; and
"(B) performs the overt act, other than completion of delivery, that kills the partially delivered living fetus. ..."
||myth: If Roe v. Wade is
overturned, abortion will automatically be illegal
in the U.S.
||FACT: If Roe is
overturned, abortion policy will be decided through
the democratic process in each state.
Before Roe v. Wade, all states permitted abortion if necessary to save the mother's life,
and some permitted abortion in additional circumstances.
But Roe deemed "every [abortion] law - even the most liberal - as unconstitutional."
As a result, no state can prohibit any abortion
at any time during pregnancy.
If Roe is overturned, policy decisions about abortion will be made by the citizens
of each state through the democratic process, rather than
Some states will place limits on abortion,
in others there will likely be few limits.
Not until Roe v. Wade is reversed
will the people be able to govern themselves
on the important public policy issue of abortion.
v. Wade is only about a
woman’s right to abortion, not about a right
to take life in general.
||FACT: Roe has often been cited by state and federal
judges to endanger human beings already born.
In 1986, relying on Roe,
the Supreme Court invalidated a law intended to ensure
care for children born alive during attempted abortions.
In 1983, a U.S. district court invalidated
a federal regulation to prevent medical neglect of handicapped
newborns in hospitals receiving federal funds. The court
said the regulation may “infringe upon the interests
outlined in cases such as … Roe v. Wade.”
In 1980, a New York court cited Roe in a “right to die” case, arguing that the “claim
to personhood” of a terminally ill comatose patient “is
certainly no greater than that of the fetus.”
In 1993, a Michigan judge cited Roe in dismissing criminal charges against Jack Kevorkian and declaring
that the state law against assisted suicide was unconstitutional.
And in 1996, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit relied
heavily on Roe and its successor, Planned
Parenthood v. Casey, in finding
a constitutional “right” to assisted suicide.
While some of these rulings were later modified or reversed, they all
underscore how Roe v. Wade has been used to argue that ideas of privacy and liberty can trump
life itself -- after as well as before birth.
||myth: Abortion is standard medical practice;
only religious hospitals and some physicians refuse to
||FACT: Even abortion advocates acknowledge that abortion
is outside mainstream medicine.
The vast majority (86%) of all U.S. hospitals
whether religious or secular, public or private, do not
participate in abortions.
71% of abortions in the United States are
performed in free-standing abortion-dedicated clinics.
Only 5% are performed in hospitals, 2% in physicians’ offices
and 22% in other kinds of clinics.
A New York Times Magazine article
reports, “The overwhelming majority of abortions
are performed by a small group of doctors. (Some 2 percent
of OB-GYN’s carry the burden, performing more than
25 per month).”
The medical community’s stigmatization
of abortion is acknowledged by Physicians for Reproductive
Choice and Health, which says one of its “primary
strategic goals is to eradicate the stigma that has become
attached to abortion and abortion providers within mainstream
||myth: Roe v. Wade empowers women to
choose freely whether abortion is their best option.
||FACT: Legalized abortion has made it easy
for others to pressure women into having abortions.
Not freedom, but “lack of
control over one’s
life” is associated with high abortion rates, as is “lack
of financial and social resources.”
An on-line survey of women who
had abortions showed that many women feel pressured by the
85% of fathers offered no encouragement to continue the pregnancy.
When women said they wanted to continue the pregnancy, the
fathers’ dominant reactions were; “Slightly Upset
60%, Mad 38%, Very Angry 43%”, compared to “Happy .7%.” 73%
of fathers suggested an abortion. 
80% of the women surveyed experienced guilt, 83%
regret, 79% loss, 62% anger, and 70% depression.
Even a website which encourages
women to consider abortion
“so they can freely decide if it is their choice” elsewhere
posts personal stories describing pressure, coercion or abandonment
by the baby’s father.