How Did We get Here? Roe, Dobbs, and Abortion

Updated: Jun 28

In 1969, a young woman named Norma McCorvey living in Dallas, TX, found herself in a predicament. At 22 years old, unmarried, and pregnant, Norma knew she wasn’t prepared to care for a child. So she explored her options—including abortion. At the time, abortion was illegal and not widely practiced, so she reached out to a lawyer to arrange an adoption for her baby.

The lawyer, a woman by the name of Gloria Allred, said she would help Norma find adoptive parents for her baby but also had other plans. Allred introduced Norma to another lawyer looking for some help with her lawsuit challenging pro-life laws that she was filing against the District Attorney’s office in Dallas County.

In 1970, the two attorneys convinced Norma McCovey to sign an affidavit suing District Attorney Henry Wade because she could not have a legal abortion. Norma claimed in the lawsuit that she had been raped but later admitted that wasn’t true. She signed the document under the pseudonym “Jane Roe.”

The case would eventually reach the Supreme Court as Roe vs. Wade in 1973.

In response to this case, the Supreme Court ruled that a woman’s right to an abortion was implicit in the right to privacy protected by the 14th Amendment to the Constitution.[i] This paved the way for abortion to be legalized in all fifty states, bypassing an individual state’s ability to pass their own legislation.

Remarkably, 50 years later, Roe vs. Wade is still being contested. With protests erupting and vandalism escalating, every news outlet on TV is talking about this landmark case once again. This decision from decades ago is back in the courts thanks to a new court case: Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. Before we dive into some background information, it’s critical to understand what will—and what will not—happen as a result of the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe vs. Wade.

Contrary to what many are saying, overturning Roe vs. Wade will not outlaw abortion. It will, however, push that decision back to each state where they can make their own laws because—according to Article IV of the Constitution—the Federal government does not have the authority to force the states to enforce federal law. Several states are prepared to ban abortion from the time that a fetal heartbeat is detected.

Let’s look briefly at how we got here. In March of 2018, Jackson Women’s Health Center, the only abortion clinic in the state of Mississippi, sued Thomas E. Dobbs, the state health officer, on the same day that Mississippi passed a law banning abortions after 15 weeks. This court case (Jackson Women’s Health Organization vs. Dobbs) argued that Roe vs. Wade established that a pre-born baby was not “viable” until 24-28 weeks and that it was illegal for a state to overrule the federal law in this case.

At the request of Jackson Women’s Health Care Center (JWHCC), the district court prevented Mississippi’s “Gestational Age Act” from taking effect.