Roe v. Wade – Case Brief Summary

Summary of Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113, 93 S. Ct. 705, 35 L. Ed. 2d 147 (1973).

Facts

Roe (P), a pregnant single woman, brought a class action suit challenging the constitutionality of the Texas abortion laws. These laws made it a crime to obtain or attempt an abortion except on medical advice to save the life of the mother.

Other plaintiffs in the lawsuit included Hallford, a doctor who faced criminal prosecution for violating the state abortion laws; and the Does, a married couple with no children, who sought an injunction against enforcement of the laws on the grounds that they were unconstitutional. The defendant was county District Attorney Wade (D).

A three-judge District Court panel tried the cases together and held that Roe and Hallford had standing to sue and presented justiciable controversies, and that declaratory relief was warranted. The court also ruled however that injunctive relief was not warranted and that the Does’ complaint was not justiciable.

Roe and Hallford won their lawsuits at trial. The district court held that the Texas abortion statutes were void as vague and for overbroadly infringing the Ninth and Fourteenth Amendment rights of the plaintiffs. The Does lost, however, because the district court ruled that injunctive relief against enforcement of the laws was not warranted.

The Does appealed directly to the Supreme Court of the United States and Wade cross-appealed the district court’s judgment in favor of Roe and Hallford.

Issues

  1. Do abortion laws that criminalize all abortions, except those required on medical advice to save the life of the mother, violate the Constitution of the United States?
  2. Does the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution protect the right to privacy, including the right to obtain an abortion?
  3. Are there any circumstances where a state may enact laws prohibiting abortion?
  4. Did the fact that Roe’s pregnancy had already terminated naturally before this case was decided by the Supreme Court render her lawsuit moot?
  5. Was the district court correct in denying injunctive relief?

Holding and Rule (Blackmun)

  1. Yes. State criminal abortion laws that except from criminality only life-saving procedures on the mother’s behalf, and that do not take into consideration the stage of pregnancy and other interests, are unconstitutional for violating the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
  2. Yes. The Due Process Clause protects the right to privacy, including a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy, against state action.
  3. Yes. Though a state cannot completely deny a woman the right to terminate her pregnancy, it has legitimate interests in protecting both the pregnant woman’s health and the potentiality of human life at various stages of pregnancy.
  4. No. The natural termination of Roe’s pregnancy did not render her suit moot.
  5. Yes. The district court was correct in denying injunctive relief.

The Court held that, in regard to abortions during the first trimester, the decision must be left to the judgment of the pregnant woman’s doctor. In regard to second trimester pregnancies, states may promote their interests in the mother’s health by regulating abortion procedures related to the health of the mother. Regarding third trimester pregnancies, states may promote their interests in the potentiality of human life by regulating or even prohibiting abortion, except when necessary to preserve the life or health of the mother.

The Supreme Court held that litigation involving pregnancy, which is “capable of repetition, yet evading review,” is an exception to the general rule that an actual controversy must exist at each stage of judicial review, and not merely when the action is initiated.

The Court held that while 28 U.S.C. § 1253 does not authorize a party seeking only declaratory relief to appeal directly to the Supreme Court, review is not foreclosed when the case is brought on appeal from specific denial of injunctive relief and the arguments on the issues of both injunctive and declaratory relief are necessarily identical.

The Does’ complaint seeking injunctive relief was based on contingencies which might or might not occur and was therefore too speculative to present an actual case or controversy. It was unnecessary for the Court to decide Hallford’s case for injunctive relief because once the Court found the laws unconstitutional, the Texas authorities were prohibited from enforcing them.

Disposition

Roe wins – the district court judgment is affirmed.

Hallford loses – the district court judgment is reversed.

The Does lose – the district court judgment is affirmed.

See Singleton v. Wulff for an abortion rights constitutional law case brief involving issues of injunctive and declaratory relief in the context of the enforcement of abortion legislation.


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