Roe v. Wade (1973)

In 1970, two lawyers filed suit on behalf of a pregnant woman (under the alias of Jane Roe). The defendant was Henry Wade, the District Attorney of Dallas County, who represented the state laws that prohibited abortions when rape, incest, or medical urgency could not be documented. The case was decided by the U.S. Supreme Court on January 22, 1973. Here are some of the words from the majority opinion written by Harry Blackmun. Read the full text here.
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Explore the Words

definitions & notes only words
  1. controversy
    a dispute where there is strong disagreement
    We forthwith acknowledge our awareness of the sensitive and emotional nature of the abortion controversy, of the vigorous opposing views, even among physicians, and of the deep and seemingly absolute convictions that the subject inspires.
  2. complicate
    make less simple
    In addition, population growth, pollution, poverty, and racial overtones tend to complicate and not to simplify the problem.
  3. admonition
    a firm rebuke
    We bear in mind, too, Mr. Justice Holmes' admonition in his now-vindicated dissent in Lochner v. New York, 198 U.S. 45, 76 (1905): [The Constitution] is made for people of fundamentally differing views...
  4. injunction
    a judicial remedy to prohibit a party from doing something
    She sought a declaratory judgment that the Texas criminal abortion statutes were unconstitutional on their face, and an injunction restraining the defendant from enforcing the statutes.
  5. abeyance
    temporary cessation or suspension
    That court ordered the appeals held in abeyance pending decision here. We postponed decision on jurisdiction to the hearing on the merits.
  6. pursuant
    in conformance to or agreement with
    It might have been preferable if the defendant, pursuant to our Rule 20, had presented to us a petition for certiorari before judgment in the Court of Appeals with respect to the granting of the plaintiffs' prayer for declaratory relief.
  7. nexus
    the means of connection between things linked in series
    The "logical nexus between the status asserted and the claim sought to be adjudicated," Flast v. Cohen, 392 U.S. at 102, and the necessary degree of contentiousness, Golden v. Zwickler, 394 U.S. 103 (1969), are both present.
  8. gestation
    the period during which an embryo develops
    But when, as here, pregnancy is a significant fact in the litigation, the normal 266-day human gestation period is so short that the pregnancy will come to term before the usual appellate process is complete.
  9. moot
    of no legal significance, as having been previously decided
    If that termination makes a case moot, pregnancy litigation seldom will survive much beyond the trial stage, and appellate review will be effectively denied.
  10. terminate
    bring to an end or halt
    The principal thrust of appellant's attack on the Texas statutes is that they improperly invade a right, said to be possessed by the pregnant woman, to choose to terminate her pregnancy.
  11. embody
    represent or express something abstract in tangible form
    Appellant would discover this right in the concept of personal "liberty" embodied in the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause; or in personal, marital, familial, and sexual privacy said to be protected by the Bill of Rights or its penumbras...
  12. penumbra
    a region of light shadow around the darkest part of a shadow
    Appellant would discover this right in the concept of personal "liberty" embodied in the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause; or in personal, marital, familial, and sexual privacy said to be protected by the Bill of Rights or its penumbras...
  13. proscribe
    command against
    Those laws, generally proscribing abortion or its attempt at any time during pregnancy except when necessary to preserve the pregnant woman's life, are not of ancient or even of common-law origin.
  14. scruple
    an ethical or moral principle that inhibits action
    ..."it was resorted to without scruple."
  15. austerity
    self-denial, especially refraining from worldly pleasures
    ..."[i]n no other stratum of Greek opinion were such views held or proposed in the same spirit of uncompromising austerity."
  16. infuse
    fill, as with a certain quality
    These disciplines variously approached the question in terms of the point at which the embryo or fetus became "formed" or recognizably human, or in terms of when a "person" came into being, that is, infused with a "soul" or "animated."
  17. paucity
    an insufficient quantity or number
    That their reliance on Coke on this aspect of the law was uncritical and, apparently in all the reported cases, dictum (due probably to the paucity of common law prosecutions...
  18. procedure
    a particular course of action intended to achieve a result
    The State has a legitimate interest in seeing to it that abortion, like any other medical procedure, is performed under circumstances that insure maximum safety for the patient.
  19. prevalence
    the quality of being widespread
    The prevalence of high mortality rates at illegal "abortion mills" strengthens, rather than weakens, the State's interest in regulating the conditions under which abortions are performed.
  20. tacitly
    by unexpressed agreement
    They claim that adoption of the "quickening" distinction through received common law and state statutes tacitly recognizes the greater health hazards inherent in late abortion and impliedly repudiates the theory that life begins at conception.
  21. unqualified
    not limited or restricted
    We, therefore, conclude that the right of personal privacy includes the abortion decision, but that this right is not unqualified and must be considered against important state interests in regulation.
  22. dominant
    exercising influence or control
    Although the results are divided, most of these courts have agreed that the right of privacy, however based, is broad enough to cover the abortion decision; that the right, nonetheless, is not absolute and is subject to some limitations; and that at some point the state interests as to protection of health, medical standards, and prenatal life, become dominant.
  23. imposition
    the act of enforcing something
    Appellant, as has been indicated, claims an absolute right that bars any state imposition of criminal penalties in the area.
  24. conception
    the event that occurred at the beginning of something
    Appellee argues that the State's determination to recognize and protect prenatal life from and after conception constitutes a compelling state interest.
  25. reference
    a remark that calls attention to something or someone
    Section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment contains three references to "person." The first, in defining "citizens," speaks of "persons born or naturalized in the United States."
  26. speculate
    talk over conjecturally, or review in an idle or casual way
    We need not resolve the difficult question of when life begins. When those trained in the respective disciplines of medicine, philosophy, and theology are unable to arrive at any consensus, the judiciary, at this point in the development of man's knowledge, is not in a position to speculate as to the answer.
  27. viable
    capable of life or normal growth and development
    Physicians and their scientific colleagues have regarded that event with less interest and have tended to focus either upon conception, upon live birth, or upon the interim point at which the fetus becomes " viable," that is, potentially able to live outside the mother's womb, albeit with artificial aid. Viability is usually placed at about seven months (28 weeks) but may occur earlier, even at 24 weeks.
  28. contingent
    determined by conditions or circumstances that follow
    In areas other than criminal abortion, the law has been reluctant to endorse any theory that life, as we recognize it, begins before live birth or to accord legal rights to the unborn except in narrowly defined situations and except when the rights are contingent upon live birth.
  29. tort
    a wrongdoing for which an action for damages may be brought
    For example, the traditional rule of tort law denied recovery for prenatal injuries even though the child was born alive.
  30. compelling
    driving or forcing
    With respect to the State's important and legitimate interest in the health of the mother, the " compelling" point, in the light of present medical knowledge, is at approximately the end of the first trimester.
  31. regulation
    the act of controlling or directing according to rule
    Examples of permissible state regulation in this area are requirements as to the qualifications of the person who is to perform the abortion; as to the licensure of that person; as to the facility in which the procedure is to be performed, that is, whether it must be a hospital or may be a clinic or some other place of less-than-hospital status; as to the licensing of the facility; and the like.
  32. determine
    reach, make, or come to a decision about something
    This means, on the other hand, that, for the period of pregnancy prior to this "compelling" point, the attending physician, in consultation with his patient, is free to determine, without regulation by the State, that, in his medical judgment, the patient's pregnancy should be terminated.
  33. justification
    something that shows an action to be reasonable or necessary
    With respect to the State's important and legitimate interest in potential life, the "compelling" point is at viability. This is so because the fetus then presumably has the capability of meaningful life outside the mother's womb. State regulation protective of fetal life after viability thus has both logical and biological justifications.
  34. statute
    an act passed by a legislative body
    A state criminal abortion statute of the current Texas type, that excepts from criminality only a life-saving procedure on behalf of the mother, without regard to pregnancy stage and without recognition of the other interests involved, is violative of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
  35. subsequent
    following in time or order
    For the stage subsequent to approximately the end of the first trimester, the State, in promoting its interest in the health of the mother, may, if it chooses, regulate the abortion procedure in ways that are reasonably related to maternal health.
  36. appropriate
    suitable for a particular person, place, or situation
    For the stage subsequent to viability, the State in promoting its interest in the potentiality of human life may, if it chooses, regulate, and even proscribe, abortion except where it is necessary, in appropriate medical judgment, for the preservation of the life or health of the mother.
  37. respective
    considered individually
    This holding, we feel, is consistent with the relative weights of the respective interests involved, with the lessons and examples of medical and legal history, with the lenity of the common law, and with the demands of the profound problems of the present day.
  38. vindicate
    show to be right by providing justification or proof
    The decision vindicates the right of the physician to administer medical treatment according to his professional judgment up to the points where important state interests provide compelling justifications for intervention.
  39. inherently
    in an essential manner
    Up to those points, the abortion decision in all its aspects is inherently, and primarily, a medical decision, and basic responsibility for it must rest with the physician.
  40. unconstitutional
    not consistent with or according to fundamental laws
    We find it unnecessary to decide whether the District Court erred in withholding injunctive relief, for we assume the Texas prosecutorial authorities will give full credence to this decision that the present criminal abortion statutes of that State are unconstitutional.
Created on January 29, 2017 (updated September 11, 2019)

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