The United States of America has seen a wave of opinions and laws passed by governments to provide rights and install restrictions on the procedures of abortion. A huge wave of protests shook the Supreme court of the United States over a law passed in Texas violating the set norms by the court in the landmark judgement of Roe v. Wade. This particular article focusses on the series of judgements by not just focusing on Roe v. Wade but also stating the judgements passed by the court in other cases defining the rights of private individuals, the state and physicians.
Abortion has been practised since ancient times, but the legality of such a practice has often been challenged and questioned by forces that would denigrate women’s fundamental rights. These rights were questioned when the Governor of Texas signed the Texas Heartbeat Act on September 1, 2021, which set a turning point in the history of abortion laws in the United States. This bill introduced new restrictions and provisions thus strengthening the stand of the conservative coalition assembled under former President Donald Trump. Under section 171.204 of the act – prohibition of abortion of an unborn child, it stated that –
“Except as provided by section 171.205, a physician may not knowingly perform or induce an abortion on a pregnant woman if the physician detected a fetal heartbeat for the unborn child as required by section 171.203 or failed to perform a test to detect a fetal heartbeat”.
The entire section emphasized the definition of a “fetal heartbeat”, and its detection would prohibit a woman from getting an abortion. The act furthermore adds under section 171.208 – “any person, other than an officer or employee of a state or local governmental entity in this state, may bring a civil action against any person who performs or induces an abortion in violation of this chapter”. This brings a seismic shift over the rights of a woman over her own body. Doctors predict that one of the first detectable heartbeats is usually as early as 6 weeks when most women don’t even know that they are pregnant. To this, Dr Michael Cackovic, a maternal-fetal medicine specialist at Ohio State University’s medical centre states that the ultrasound technology used to detect a fetal heartbeat at 6 weeks of pregnancy is not even a heartbeat. He clarifies that a heartbeat detected at 6 weeks is a mere cardiac activity which will slowly grow up to become the heart. Thus, this indicated that this law exempts a woman from her right to abortion on the mere detection of a cardiac activity which has not even formed the heart of the child. Besides that, the right of a citizen to sue any abortion clinic for aiding and abetting an abortion has left most clinics in a phase of stagnation because if convicted they would have to pay a fine of $10,000, shut down the clinic and pay the fees of the attorney representing the plaintiff.
Abortion Laws in the United States of America: –
The history of abortion laws in the United States has a seen very steady and slow process of debates, reports, legislative laws, and cases in the supreme court for about half a century. There have been previous attempts by the legislature of different states to ban abortion on the mere excuse of maintaining maternal health. There are a few cases to keep in mind while we understand the abortion laws of how the laws have slowly changed.
Roe v. Wade, 1973: –
One of the first cases structuring the abortion laws in the US was the Roe v. Wade case on January 23, 1973. In this case, the court first recognized the constitutional right in the fourteenth amendment which guarantees citizens the right to privacy and protects the interests of a woman’s right to choose. The court issued a strict set of guidelines for the state to formulate laws on abortion during the period of a woman’s pregnancy. It divided the entire period of 9 months of pregnancy into three trimesters where the decision of abortion in the first trimester would strictly be left between the woman and the physician, the second trimester the state could regulate abortion procedures keeping maternal health as their priority and in the third trimester, once the foetus becomes viable the state can take certain actions in securing a potential life.
Planned Parenthood v. Danforth, 1976: –
Immediately after Roe v. Wade, a Missouri law regulating abortion care was declared unconstitutional. This law primarily asked for not just the consent of the woman but also the woman’s husband, if she is married, or her parents if she is not. The plaintiffs challenged various parts of the law one of them was that the House bill required physicians to make all reasonable efforts to sustain the life of a fetus that survived an abortion and to treat the fetus as though it was delivered through conventional methods, and the non-compliance of that would put the liability on the doctor where they would charge with manslaughter. In the judgement, the court upheld the viability of the law and stated that it was in the line of the definitions given in Roe v. Wade. The court dismissed all arguments of the plaintiffs except the liability of the physicians to report the birth and for the judges to decide if the aborted fetus was an abandoned child.
Harris v. Mc Rae,1980: –
This case was also an important factor in the series of judgements where the supreme court upheld the Hyde Amendment to the Medicaid Act, Title XIX of the Social Security Act. This amendment prohibited the use of federal funds for abortion services which could have incentivized low-income women seeking abortions. The arguments stated by the plaintiff that the Hyde Amendment violated the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment, the US Supreme court dismissed all these arguments clearing the intentions of the laws that the amendment was limiting national funds and was not favouring anti-abortion laws.
Webster v. Reproductive Health Services, 1989: –
A Missouri statute prohibited abortions conducted by physicians unless the life of the mother was at risk. This was challenged in the court where in a highly disputed judgement, the Supreme court upheld the constitutionality of the statute stating that it did not contradict Roe v. Wade, it elaborated that prohibiting the use of government workers or facilities to perform abortions is acceptable because the right to an abortion established in Roe does not include the right to avail government assistance. The major fallback these judgements had was they gave furthermore incentive and opportunity to state legislatures to form laws restricting women from availing their right to abortion by identifying loopholes in Roe v. Wade and filling those gaps with abortion restrictive laws.
Planned Parenthood v. Casey, 1992: –
In this judgment the Supreme court set a new standard defining the standards and the conditions under which abortion laws can be formulated by the state. It answered the main question of the judgement ‘Can a state require women who want an abortion to obtain informed consent, wait 24 hours, if married, notify their husbands, and, if minors obtain parental consent, without violating their right to abortion as guaranteed by Roe v. Wade?’ The new standard set by the court, clearly stated that any restriction on abortion would be unconstitutional if they place an “undue burden” on a woman seeking an abortion before the fetus is viable. Though the requirement of consent for abortion can be a mandatory step for minors asking for an abortion, any kind of law restriction abortion in the first trimester would be unconstitutional.
Gonzalez v. Planned Parenthood Federation of America, 2007: –
This was an important judgement as the Supreme court dwelled into the procedures of abortions and held the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003 signed by President George W. Bush to be constitutional as it banned an abortion procedure. This particular ban was targeting a procedure in which halfway through the delivery of the fetus, the physicians conduct an act to terminate the fetus before completing the delivery. The law stated that in this procedure, if the fetus is being delivered with its feet coming out first with any part of the body above the navel out of the mother’s womb, then that would be considered Partial birth, and if the entire head of the fetus is out of the mother’s womb, then it would be considered partial-birth as well and terminating the life of that fetus would be completely illegal. The court indicated that it is constitutional for the government and state authorities to ban abortion procedures without providing an exception in cases where the pregnancy has been caused due to rape and the pregnant woman’s life was endangered.
Whole Woman’s Health v. Jackson is one of the challenges to the Texas law which saw an 8:1 judgement by the Supreme court on December 10, 2021, stating that abortion providers can file suits against state licensing officials to prevent them from enforcing the Texas law but under the immunity doctrine established in Ex Parte Young, they cannot sue state judges and clerks to prevent them from trying cases bought by private individuals complaining about abortions taking place beyond the set period. The series of cases and altercations in judgements and laws passed by people have not just helped women fight for their rights but have also taken a step ahead in helping people achieve their fundamental rights of privacy even in the matter of keeping a marriage private. The wavering set of judgements passed by the supreme court has resulted in this particular debacle between the rights of the people and the government.
 Tex. Heartbill Act Ann. Art. X (West 2021) § 171.208(a).
 AP, what is Texas’ “Fetal Heartbeat Bill” about, The Hindu (Sept. 6, 2021), https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/texas-fetal-heartbeat-bill-passes-judicial-scrutiny/article36315358.ece
 Tex. Heartbill Act Ann. Art. X (West 2021) § 171.208 (b).
 Roe v. Wade 410 U.S. 113 (1973).
 Planned Parenthood v. Danforth 428 U.S. 52 (1976).
 Abboud, Carolina J., “Planned Parenthood v. Danforth (1976)”. Embryo Project Encyclopedia . ISSN: 1940-5030; https://embryo.asu.edu/pages/planned-parenthood-v-danforth-1976.
 Harris v. McRae 448 U.S. 297.
 H.R.610 – 114th Congress (2015-2016): To amend title XIX of the Social Security Act to audit States to determine if such States used Medicaid funds in violation of the Hyde Amendment and other Federal prohibitions on funding for abortions, and for other purposes, H.R.610, 114th Cong. (2015), (March 19, 2022),https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/house-bill/610.
 William L. Webster, Attorney General of Missouri et al. v. Reproductive Health Services, et al 492 U.S. 490.
 Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania et al. v. Robert P. Casey, et al 505 U.S. 833.
 David Masci, “A History of Key Abortion Rulings of the U.S. Supreme Court” Pew Research Center (March 19, 2022), https://www.pewforum.org/2013/01/16/a-history-of-key-abortion-rulings-of-the-us-supreme-court/#post.
 Higginbotham, Vicotria, “Gonzalesv. Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Inc. (2007)”. Embryo Project Encyclopedia (2018-06-01) ISSN: 1940-5030, https://embryo.asu.edu/pages/gonzales-v-planned-parenthood-federation-america-inc 2007#:~:text=(Gonzales%20v.,making%20partial%20birth%20abortions%20illegal.