Roe vs Wade – one of the most polarizing and tumultuous cases in U.S. legal history, celebrated its anniversary this week. Forty-one years ago, the late Henry Menasco Wade, the longest serving district attorney in the history of the United States was the defendant in this highly controversial case. The question of abortion continues to divide the nation’s opinions and remains a top issue that requires a clear stance from Senators, Representatives and even the President. Every year, Washington D.C. prepares for the onslaught of protestors from both sides of an argument that has now spawned three separate camps: Pro-life activists who believe that abortion is illegal under any circumstances,Pro-choice advocates who believe that abortion is legal under special circumstances that include rape or danger to the life of the mother and the third camp who believe in a woman’s right to abortion in all cases. The fact that Wade lost his first case of a long career, while representing Norma McCorvey née Nelson, best known as Jane Roe, was merely a step in the kindling of one of the most contentious issues in American political and religious circles. Roe vs Wade remains a landmark decision in the history of the American justice system for upholding a woman’s right to abortion.
As Roe vs Wade celebrates its tumultuous anniversary amid protests around the nation, much has changed in the life of Norma McCorvey, the young lady who challenged the anti-abortion laws in the State of Texas. After her meeting with an evangelical preacher, Philip “Flip” Benham in 1995, nearly twenty-two years after the Supreme Court decision to overturn anti-abortion laws in Texas, McCorvey did a volte-face, quitting her job at an abortion clinic and actively campaigning against abortion. She would eventually convert to Catholicism, laying to rest any doubt about her pro-life stance.
Little has changed in the practice of the law however, with President Barack Obama praising the landmark law as “protecting a woman’s access to safe, affordable health care and her constitutional right to privacy, including the right to reproductive freedom.” All across the United States, state-level legislation continues to curtail access and application to abortion clinics. A number of protests for and against abortion continue as thousands of people from across the country travel to the nation’s capital to swell the ranks of protestors, who braving below-freezing temperatures, continue to advocate their stand and make their voices heard in the halls of the Senate. No single group can claim to have a louder voice or feel marginalized with several Democratic and Republican representatives protesting right alongside their supporters.
Another case that celebrates its tumultuous forty-first anniversary on the same day as Roe vs Wade is the case of Doe vs Bolton that overturned the anti-abortion law in the state of Georgia. Sandra Cano, the plaintiff in that case also turned pro-life and with Norma McCorvey, unsuccessfully moved the Supreme Court to overturn the cases that they were instrumental in winning. While their individual involvements in their respective cases may quietly pass into the pages of history, the impact of Roe vs. Wade continues to resonate with Americans whose opinions are no less divided today than they were on the January 22, 1973.
By Grace Stephen