Roe v. Wade | Definition

Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee
Course: Introduction

Roe v. Wade is a landmark Supreme Court case in the United States that established a woman’s constitutional right to have an abortion. The case was decided in 1973, and it held that a state law that banned abortions except to save the life of the mother was unconstitutional because it violated a woman’s right to privacy.

In Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court held that the right to privacy, which the Fourteenth Amendment protects, is broad enough to include a woman’s decision to have an abortion but that this right must be balanced against the state’s interest in protecting maternal health and potential human life. The court established a framework that evaluated state abortion regulations based on the trimester of pregnancy and allowed states to regulate abortion more stringently as the pregnancy progressed.

In the criminal justice context, Roe v. Wade has shaped the laws and policies around abortion, setting the precedent that the right to privacy includes a woman’s right to make the decision to have an abortion and that states must balance this right with the state’s interest in protecting maternal health and potential human life.  The ruling, in this case, has since been severely curtailed by recent case law. 

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Last Modified: 01/11/2023


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