What is the USA Abortion Law?

Until the 1860s, there were no laws banning abortion in this country. During the next 20 years, however, most states passed laws prohibiting it.

Whether abortions are legal does not seem to have a significant impact on whether women get them. In the last half of the 19th century, one abortion took place for every five or six live births, according to estimates. That rate persisted in the 1950s.

In 1973, the Supreme Court, in Roe v. Wade, made abortion legal for women, declaring that privacy rights regarding the "bodily integrity, identity and destiny" of an individual were largely beyond the reach of government. The vote was 7 to 2. Since then, the margin in favor of abortion has shrunk considerably. The last vote on abortion rights, in 1992, passed by a single vote, 5 to 4.

The current justices whose previous decisions or public statements indicate they favor abortion rights are:

  •     Stephen Breyer
  •     Ruth Bader Ginsburg
  •     Sandra Day OConnor
  •     David Souter
  •     John Paul Stevens

Those whose decisions indicate they oppose abortion rights are:

  •     Anthony Kennedy
  •     William Rehnquist (the chief justice)
  •     Antonin Scalia
  •     Clarence Thomas

The narrow margin has focused attention on the court and the elections, because the president nominates Supreme Court justices. The next president likely will have an opportunity to nominate several new justices.