No topic related to the feminist movement has aroused such passion and controversy as much as the right to an abortion. In the 1960s, there was no federal law regulating abortions, and many states had banned the practice entirely, except when the life of the mother was endangered.
Women's groups argued that illegality led many women to seek black market abortions by unlicensed physicians or to perform the procedure on themselves. As a result, several states such as California and New York began to legitimize abortions. With no definitive ruling from the federal government, women's groups sought the opinion of the United States Supreme Court.
The battle began in Texas, which outlawed any type of abortion unless a doctor determined that the mother's life was in danger. The anonymous Jane Roe challenged the Texas law, and the case slowly made its way to the highest court in the land.
After two years of hearing evidence, the Court invalidated the Texas law by a 7-2 vote. Using the same reasoning as the Griswold v. Connecticut decision, the majority of the justices maintained that a right to privacy was implied by the Ninth and Fourteenth Amendments. No state could restrict abortions during the first three months, or trimester, of a pregnancy.
States were permitted to adopt restrictive laws in accordance with respecting the mother's health during the second trimester. The practice could be banned outright during the third trimester. Any state law that conflicted with this ruling was automatically overturned.
Women's groups were ecstatic. But immediately an opposition emerged. The Roman Catholic Church had long criticized abortion as a form of infanticide. Many fundamentalist Protestant ministers joined the outcry. The National Right to Life Committee formed with the explicit goal of reversing Roe v. Wade.
Religious traditions throughout the world have very different views on unborn children. In Japan, the Bodhisattva Jizo is the guardian of unborn children and...