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Choosing a Chief Justice

Roe Ruling: More Than Its Author Intended

September 14, 2005|David G. Savage | Times Staff Writer

As some scholars later said, his opinion treated the pregnant woman as a bit player in a doctor's drama.

White and Rehnquist filed dissents, but Burger delayed casting his vote. His colleagues suspected that he did not want the opinion released before Nixon's second inauguration, set for Jan. 20.

As that day approached, Burger filed a short concurrence and predicted the ruling would not have "sweeping consequences."

Blackmun's proposed press release also downplayed the potential effects of the ruling, stressing that it would not mean "abortion on demand." His court colleagues convinced him that it would be inappropriate to issue a statement that commented on a ruling.

So, on Jan. 22, 1973, Roe vs. Wade and Doe vs. Bolton were handed down as 7-2 rulings in favor of a new right to abortion. That afternoon, former President Lyndon B. Johnson died, pushing aside the abortion decisions as the biggest news story of the day.



Roe, and the road after

Major U.S. Supreme Court decisions and other milestones related to Roe vs. Wade:

Jan. 22, 1973: In Roe vs. Wade, the court for the first time ensures nationwide access to abortion. In Doe vs. Bolton, decided the same day, the court strikes down restrictions on performing abortions only in hospitals. The decision gives rise to a new kind of medical facility, the abortion clinic.

1976: In Planned Parenthood of Central Missouri vs. Danforth, the court limits the rights of husbands and of parents of minors to veto a woman's or girl's decision to end her pregnancy.

1979: In Colautti vs. Franklin, the court reaffirms its intention to give doctors broad discretion in determining "fetal viability" -- when a fetus can live outside the mother's womb.

1979: In Bellotti vs. Baird, the court implies that states may be able to require a pregnant, unmarried minor to obtain parental consent to an abortion so long as state law provides an alternative, such as letting the minor seek a state judge's approval.

1981: In H.L. vs. Matheson, the court rules that states may require doctors to try to inform parents before performing an abortion.

1983: In three decisions, the court rules that states and communities may not require that all abortions for women in their second trimester be performed in hospitals. The court also strikes down regulations that impose a 24-hour waiting period between the signing of an abortion consent form and the medical procedure and that require doctors to tell women seeking abortions that a fetus is a "human life."

1986: In Thornburgh vs. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the court strikes down Pennsylvania abortion laws similar to those rejected in 1983. It also strikes down requirements that doctors performing third-trimester abortions use procedures least risky to a fetus capable of surviving outside the womb, and that two doctors attend abortions performed in the third trimester. It invalidates a regulation requiring doctors to make a record, which could become available to the public, of every abortion they perform.

1989: The court upholds a Missouri law requiring doctors to determine, when possible, whether a fetus at least 20 weeks old is "viable," or capable of surviving outside the womb. Missouri law bans abortions of viable fetuses.

1992: In Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania vs. Casey, the Supreme Court upholds the core of its Roe vs. Wade ruling and bans states from outlawing most abortions. But it abandons the trimester plan and adopts a new test -- abortion regulations that present an "undue burden" on women's constitutional rights will be prohibited.

2000: In Stenberg vs. Carhart, the court strikes down a Nebraska ban on what opponents call "partial-birth abortion," finding it an unconstitutional violation of Roe vs. Wade.

Sources: Los Angeles Times, Associated Press, NPR, CNN, Center for Reproductive Rights. Graphics reporting by Joel Greenberg

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