What is Roe v Wade?

In 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court decided in a 7-2 ruling the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution provides a “right to privacy” that protects a pregnant woman's right to have an abortion. This essentially means abortions are legally protected by the Constitution and cannot be outlawed. In 1992, a separate case in the Supreme Court affirmed the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision and said the government cannot impose an ‘undue burden’ on women seeking an abortion. 

Who is Roe? 

Norma McCorvey, also known by her pseudonym "Jane Roe" was the plaintiff in the case. McCorvey used a false name during the case (and never attended a hearing) until she publicly identified herself four days after the verdict.  

McCorvey changed her views on abortion after the decision and joined the anti-abortion movement right up until her death in 2017. In a documentary released last year, McCorvey revealed that she was actually always pro-choice and had been paid by anti-abortion groups to speak against abortion. 

Who is Wade? 

Henry Wade was the district attorney of Dallas County and the defendant in the case. 

Why does each state have different laws? 

With the current interpretation of the Roe v. Wade case, abortion is legal. Individual states in the U.S. have the ability to create laws to restrict access to abortion, as long as those laws do not impose an ‘undue burden’. The term ‘undue burden’ is not fully defined, and there are constant arguments about what an ‘undue burden’ is and is not. These different interpretations of the phrase have led to the recent tighter abortion restrictions in Texas, which we wrote about here.  

Does Australia have similar a Roe v. Wade case? 

Australia does not have a landmark case the way the U.S. does, but similarly to the U.S, each Australian state and territory has varying laws on abortion. South Australia was the most recent jurisdiction to decriminalise abortion - this occurred in 2021.