Roe v. Wade Supreme Court Decision: What's in the Text?

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Overview of Roe v. Wade

US Supreme Court Building
US Supreme Court Building. Tom Brakefield / Getty Images

Roe v. Wade, 1973, is perhaps the most culturally influential, controversial and misunderstood Supreme Court ruling of the 20th century.  In these pages, with brief introductions, you can follow the arguments of the Court, including the majority decision and separate concurring and dissenting opinions by five justices of the nine.  Check out the link to the actual decision.

In the preface, the Court outlines the history of the case, including how it was filed, what happened in lower courts, and what organizations or individuals have filed amicus briefs (friend-of-the-court briefs weighing in on how they believe the Court should consider the case).

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Majority Opinion: Justice Blackmun

The majority, and prevailing, decision of the court follows.  It was delivered by Justice Blackmun.  

This first set of sections deals with the legal and judicial history of the case in more detail. 

In sections V and VI, the court summarizes the history of abortion and the reasons for passing the laws which were then in effect.

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Sections VII and VIII continue the discussion of the historical reasons for abortion laws and the grounds for court decisions in the past regarding abortion rights.  The interest of courts in the health and life of the mother, privacy rights of the mother, the burden on the mother to care for a child after it's born -- these and other factors are considered. 

Section IX: A key point in the decision is the status of the term "person" in the law.  The court also considers the issue of when life begins, as held in various religious and medical views, and how the chance of life for the fetus varies depending on the trimester at which pregnancy ends in birth or abortion.

Section XI: This is the key part of the decision, summarizing the conclusions and announcing the decision.  What were the key points in the decision?  On what right did the decision finally depend?

Link to the actual decision: Supreme Court Decision: Roe v. Wade

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Roe v. Wade Concurring Opinion: Justice Stewart

In studying this concurring opinion, some questions:  Why did Justice Stewart want to issue a concurring opinion and not just join in with the majority opinion? What did he especially want to highlight? 

Link to the actual decision: Supreme Court Decision: Roe v. Wade

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Roe v. Wade Dissenting: Justice Rehnquist

In studying this case, look why Rehnquist disagreed, how he interprets and applies the right of privacy and the equal protection clause and due process clause.  How is his judicial philosophy reflected in his dissent?

Link to the actual decision: Supreme Court Decision: Roe v. Wade

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Roe v. Wade Concurring: Chief Justice Burger

Chief Justice Warren Burger concurred with the majority.  In considering this opinion, look at why he thought it necessary to add this information.  What does his concern about considering scientific and medical data say about his judicial philosophy?  What does he directly say to the dissenting justices in response to their opinions?

Link to the actual decision: Supreme Court Decision: Roe v. Wade

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Roe v. Wade Concurring: Justice Douglas

In this rather long concurring opinion, offering additional resources, consider how he ties this case to other cases, particularly those involving contraception.  How is his argument about privacy different from that in the majority opinion that he otherwise supports?

Link to the actual decision: Supreme Court Decision: Roe v. Wade

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Roe v. Wade Dissenting Opinion: Justice White

Consider this dissenting opinion by Justice White, which Justice Rehnquist also joins (in addition to his own dissenting opinion).  He does not find the reasoning sufficient in the majority opinion to ground a new right to abortion.  What is his reasoning on this?  For White (and Rehnquist), what is at stake in this decision?

Link to the actual decision: Supreme Court Decision: Roe v. Wade