Historical Timeline of Reproductive Rights in the United States

1973    (January 22) The U.S. Supreme Court announced its decision in Roe v. Wade.

 Roe v. Wade challenged a Texas statute that made it a crime to perform an abortion unless a woman's life was at stake. The court struck down the Texas law and recognized that the constitutional right to privacy "is broad enough to encompass a woman's decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy". By a 7-2 vote, Roe established that:

  1. Abortion is encompassed within the right to privacy.
  2. Restrictions on abortion must be narrowly tailored to serve compelling state interest.
  3. Before viability, the state's interest in fetal life is not compelling.
  4. Even after viability, when the state's interest in fetal life becomes compelling, the state must allow abortions necessary to protect a woman's life or health.
  5. The state's interest in maternal health becomes compelling at the end of the first trimester of pregnancy.
  6. A fetus is not a "person" under the Fourteenth Amendment, nor may the state justify restrictions on abortion based on one theory of when life begins.
  7. In Roe, the Court defined "health" to include "all factors - physical, emotional, psychological, familial, and the woman's age - relevant to the well-being of the patient.

          Justices White and Rehnquist dissented in both cases.


1976    In the case, Planned Parenthood of Central Missouri v. Danforth, the Supreme Court ruled against a Missouri statute that would force a married woman to obtain her husband's approval before getting an abortion and ruled against a written parental consent requirement for minors.


Congress enacted the first Hyde Amendment and thereby limited federal funding for abortions through Medicaid and all other HHS programs.


The first marital rape law is enacted in Nebraska, making it illegal for a husband to rape his wife.


1977    In Maher v. Roe, the Supreme Court upheld a Connecticut ban on public funding for abortions, with the exception of abortions that were "medically necessary."


The Hyde Amendment is revised to allow states to deny Medicaid funding except in cases of rape, incest, or "severe and long-lasting" damage to the woman’s physical health.


1978    Congress amended Title X, legislation that provides funding for family planning and health screening services. The amendment placed "a special emphasis on preventing unwanted pregnancies among sexually active adolescents," adding services specifically for teenagers


1979    Physician John Franklin succeeds in challenging a vague Pennsylvania state law that places unnecessary restrictions on doctors performing abortions when a fetus is or "may be" viable.


1980    The Supreme Court upheld the Hyde Amendment in Harris v. McRae, ruling that "a woman's freedom of choice (does not carry) with it a constitutional entitlement to the financial resources to avail herself of the full range of protected choices."


1983    A Missouri requirement that abortions after the first trimester must be performed in hospitals is found unconstitutional. Another anti-abortion law, mandating parental consent or court authorization for an abortion, is upheld.

1986    Pennsylvania health care providers join in a challenge to several state abortion restrictions, which leads to a resounding affirmation of a woman’s constitutional right to choose abortion. State-scripted lectures biased against abortion and extreme, health-threatening limits on post-viability abortions are struck down.


1989    In Webster vs. Reproductive Health Services, the Supreme Court broadened the restrictions that could be put on the use of tax money to pay for abortions. It also approved a requirement in the State of Missouri that after 20 weeks the physician must do viability testing on her pre-born baby.


1991    In Rust v. Sullivan, the Supreme Court rules that family planning clinics that receive Title X funding can be forbidden to answer clients’ questions about abortion.


Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania reaffirms the "core" holdings of Roe v. Wade that women have a right to abortion before fetal viability, but allows states to restrict abortion access so long as these restrictions do not impose an "undue burden" on women seeking abortions.


1992    In the case Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, while refusing to overturn Roe, the Supreme Court nevertheless upheld a laundry list of abortion restrictions (parental consent, anti-abortion counseling, and a waiting period) only invalidating spousal notification.


1993    President Clinton lifts the “gag rule” that forbade doctors in federally funded clinics from mentioning the option of abortion. He also lifted the ban on the use of fetal tissue in research.


Dr. David Gunn is killed outside his Pensacola, Florida clinic. Michael Griffith is convicted of his murder.


1994    John Salvi kills two receptionists and wounds five others in two Boston-area clinics.


Congress passes the Freedom of Access to Clinics Act (FACE), making it a federal crime to use force of threats to interfere with a woman’s right to seek an abortion.


Paul Hill fatally shoots abortion provider John Britton and his bodyguard in Pensacola, Florida.


1996    President Clinton vetoes legislation that would have banned a late-term procedure” because it lacked an exception for the women’s health as well as her life.


  1. 1998A Birmingham, Alabama clinic is bombed, killing a policeman and wounding a nurse.


Bernard Slepian, a Buffalo, New York abortion provider is shot to death.


2000    The FDA approves RU-486 “abortion pill”, a safe, effective, and private alternative to surgical abortion.


  1. 2001On his first day in office and the 28th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, President Bush restores the “global gag rule” and bars U.S aid to international groups that use their own money to support abortion.


President Bush closes the White House Office for Women’s Initiatives and Outreach, which served as a liaison between the White House and women’s organizations. [what is this? – brief explanation]


President Bush removes contraceptive coverage from the Federal Employees Health Benefit Plan (FEHBP), even though the Office of Personnel Management found that the coverage did not add any additional cost to the FEHBP premiums.


The House passes the “Unborn Victims of Violence Act.” The bill elevates the legal status of a fetus to that of an adult human being.


2002    Bush administration announces new rules covering fetuses but not pregnant women in the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), reducing women to “host” status.


The House passes the “Child Custody Protection Act” which would make it a federal crime to transport a minor across state lines for an abortion unless the parental involvement requirements of her home state had been met.


President Bush withholds $34 million in funding for birth control, maternal and child health care, and HIV/AIDS prevention from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).


President Bush fails to ratify the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination (CEDAW), an international treaty, already signed by 170 nations, to protect women’s rights. The legislation requires ratifying nations to remove barriers to discrimination against women in the areas of legal rights, education, employment, health care, politics, and finance.


U.S. House of Representatives passes “Abortion Non-Discrimination Act” (ANDA), which allows a broad range of health care entities to refuse to comply with existing federal, state, and local laws and regulations pertaining to abortion services.


Bush administration reverses U.S. position in support of 1994 global agreement that affirms the right of all couples and individuals to determine freely and responsibly the number and spacing of their children and to have the information and means to do so.

2003    President Bush's proposed budget for fiscal year 2004 denies women access to abortion services and provides no increase for the Title X family planning program.

Senate and House defeat Department of Defense (DOD) Amendments that allow women in the military stationed overseas to obtain an abortion at military facilities if they pay for it with their own funds. Currently, military women must either search for abortion services elsewhere in the country in which they are currently serving or ask their supervisors for permission and time to travel to another country where abortion is legal.

The U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives pass the “Partial Birth Abortion Ban” with no exception for women’s health, which President Bush then signs into law. This ban threatens to overturn Roe v. Wade and criminalizes the most common abortion procedure used after the first trimester. Immediately upon the bill's signing, major reproductive rights organizations filed three separate lawsuits. In each case, the courts have issued temporary restraining orders preventing the law from being implemented.