Legalities of Abortion

Legal History of Abortion (1821 - Present)


1821 Connecticut passes the first law in the United States barring abortions after “quickening,” which were usually performed by administering poison to the woman after the fourth month of pregnancy.

1856 Dr. Horatio Storer establishes a national drive through the American Medical Association to make all abortions illegal. Prior to this, first trimester abortions were legal or a misdemeanor in most states.

1860 Twenty states have laws limiting abortion.

1873 Supported by the American Medical Association (AMA), the Comstock Act bans the dissemination by mail of information on abortion or artificial contraceptives.

1875 In a speech called “Social Purity,” suffragist and feminist Susan B. Anthony spoke out against abortion, joining many other feminists who decried abortion in the late 19th century.

1890 Statues, advocated by the AMA, outlaw abortion unless necessary to save the life of the mother.

1920s Rise of the birth control movement, headed by Margaret Sanger, a proponent of eugenics.

1962   Sherri Finkbine provided an emotional face in the media for quest to legalize abortion. While pregnant, she took thalidomide, a drug found to cause severe birth defects. She requested a therapeutic abortion and was denied.

1963 The Society for Human Abortion is established in San Francisco and challenges the law by openly providing information on abortion and contraception.

1965 Griswold v. Connecticut was a landmark case in which the Supreme Court ruled that the Constitution protected a right to privacy. The case involved a Connecticut law that prohibited the use of contraceptives.

1967 Colorado is the first state to liberalize its abortion laws.  At a point when abortion is classified as felony in 49 states, Dr. Leon Belous is convicted for referring a woman to an illegal abortionist, which leads to a 1969 California Supreme Court decision in favor of a right to choose abortion. President Kennedy forms the Presidential Advisory Council on the Status of Women and calls for the repeal of abortion laws.

1969 Abortionists Lawrence Lader and Dr. Bernard Nathanson help found the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws, now called NARAL Pro-Choice America. Nathanson later renounced his abortion stance and admitted to falsifying statistics in order to garner sympathy for the pro-abortion cause.

1970s Harvey Karnen, who performed illegal abortions despite not being a physician, developed a flexible curette that made the vacuum aspiration method safer for the woman, causing it to proliferate in the U.S. as the method of choice for early abortions.

1970 Alaska, Hawaii, New York, and Washington repeal bans on abortion after viability, making abortion available at the request of a woman and her doctor up to 24 weeks.  Dr. Jane Hodgson is convicted in Minnesota for performing an abortion on a 23-year-old woman, a felony at the time. The case was appealed, but not ruled on by the state supreme court until after Roe v. Wade.

1971 The portions of the Comstock Act dealing with abortion and contraception are repealed.

1972 Eisenstadt v. Baird extended the Griswold decision to unmarried couples, since the “right to privacy” in Griswold only applied to marital relationships. (Both the Eisenstadt and Griswold decisions were cited in Roe)

1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision strikes down all state laws that had previously made abortion illegal.  Doe v. Bolton, the companion to Roe v. Wade, makes abortion on demand legal through all nine months of pregnancy by opening up the definition of a woman’s health.  The National Right to Life Committee, a non-religious group, is officially incorporated in response to Roe v. Wade, holding its first convention in Detroit.

1974 Nellie Gray organized the first National Pro-Life March in the Capital, which continues annually, and began garnering support for a Human Life Amendment, which had been introduced in Congress the previous year.  Federally-funded research using fetal tissue is banned by the National Science Foundation Authorization Act.

1975 Bigelow v. Virginia invalidates Virginia’s ban that prohibited advertising abortion.

1976 Singleton v. Wulff gives abortion clinics and providers the ability to challenge abortion laws instead of individual patients.  Planned Parenthood of Central Missouri v. Darforth changes some of the abortion laws, invalidating spousal and parental consent before an abortion.  Congress adopts the first Hyde Amendment barring the use of federal Medicaid funds to provide abortions to low-income women; the provision is upheld by the Supreme Court in 1980.

1977 A revised Hyde Amendment is passed allowing states to deny Medicaid funding except in cases of rape, incest, or “severe and long-lasting” damage to the woman’s physical health.  Maher v. RoeBeal v. Doe, and Poelker v. Doe uphold prohibition of abortions using public funding or in public hospitals, unless “medically necessary.”

1979 Bellotti v. Baird sets standard for parental consent laws.  Colautti v. Franklin strikes down Pennsylvania statue that requires abortion techniques that give the best opportunity for the fetus to be born alive after viability.

1980s The pro-life movement turns to the grassroots level, opening Pregnancy Help Centers (PHCs) and Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CPCs) to help women facing unplanned pregnancies choose life.

1980 Harris v. McRae upholds limits on funding abortion, states participating in Medicaid are not required to fund “medically necessary” abortions (Williams v. Zbaraz, companion).

1983 Akron v. Akron Center for Reproductive Health removes requirements that doctors provide patients with information on alternatives to abortion, fetal development, and medical risks of abortion, in addition to other regulations.  Planned Parenthood Association of Kansas City, Mo v. Ashcroft invalidates a Missouri statute that required some abortions to be in a hospital. Companion to Akron I.  Simopoulos v. Virginia upholds conviction of a doctor who performed an abortion during the second trimester outside of a licensed hospital.

1984 With both the White House and Congress majority pro-life following the election, Congress works to pass a Human Life Amendment and Human Life Bill (in case the amendment was rejected by the states).  Pro-life advocates divided their support between the amendment and bill, lobbying against each other and causing both to fail.

1986 Thornburgh v. American College of Obstetricians & Gynecologists invalidates Pennsylvania statute that required informed consent and other abortion regulations.

1988 American Collegians for Life is founded. In 2006, the group is renamed Students for Life of America.

1989 Webster v. Reproductive Health Services upholds the prohibition of public facilities or personnel to perform abortions and the requirement of ultrasounds after 20 weeks.

1990s Pregnancy Help Centers continue to spring up, allowing pro-lifers to support pregnant women in their communities.  Violence against abortion facilities and abortionists by a few fringe anti-abortionists leads to fear, mistrust, and stereotyping of the pro-life movement.  Sidewalk counseling and prayer vigils become the main form of clinic pro-life activism.

1990 Hodgson v. Minnesota invalidates Minnesota requirement for two-parent notification for minors.  Ohio v. Akron Center for Reproductive Health (Akron II) upholds Ohio statute requiring a minor to notify one parent or obtain a judicial wavier.

1991 Rust v. Sullivan upholds the constitutionality of the 1988 HHS regulation which prohibits doctors and counselors at clinics which receive federal funding from providing their patients with information about and referrals for abortion.

1992 Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey reaffirms Roe principle 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. Such restrictions make up the incremental approach to reducing abortions.

1993 Colorado enacts the first state “buffer zone” law, which restricts where pro-life demonstrators and sidewalk counselors can be outside abortion clinics.

1994 Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (F.A.C.E.) Act is passed by Congress. The F.A.C.E. Act forbids the use of “force, threat of force or physical obstruction” to prevent someone from providing or receiving abortions. This was brought on by “Operation Rescue,” in which individuals peacefully linked arms to block access to an abortion clinic while sidewalk counselors directed women to PHCs.

1995 The U.S. Congress passed the first nationwide ban on “partial birth” abortion, which was vetoed by President Clinton in 1996.  Norma McCorvey (“Jane Roe” of Roe v. Wade, who did not have an abortion because the ruling came too late) is befriended by pro-life activists. She declares that she is pro-life and regrets her role in the landmark case.

1997 Congress passed a slightly amended version of the abortion ban law, which was again immediately vetoed by President Clinton.  Mazurek v. Armstrong upholds “physician-only” requirement to perform an abortion in Montana.

1999 The Senate and House passed the 1997 version of the abortion ban, but the bill died at the end of the Congressional session.

2000s Massachusetts and Montana implement their own buffer zone laws, further restricting sidewalk counselors.  States continue to pass laws restricting abortion, such as parental notification, waiting periods, and ultrasound requirements.  The nation’s largest abortion provider, Planned Parenthood, reacts to the economic hardships of small neighborhood clinics by building “mega-center” abortion facilities in Illinois, Texas, Colorado, and Massachusetts.

2000 Stenberg v. Carhart strikes down Nebraska’s ban on partial-birth abortion as constitutional. This effectively invalidated 29 of 31 similar statewide bans.  Food and Drug Administration approves mifepristone (RU-486), the early abortion drug.

2003 Congress passed and President George W. Bush signed into law the “Partial-Birth Abortion” ban.  Scheidler v. National Organization for Women (NOW) determines that abortion protestors are not extorting abortion providers by protesting in hopes of shutting down the clinic.

2004 U.S. District Courts in California, New York, and Nebraska declare the federal “partial-birth abortion” ban unconstitutional.

2006 Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood of Northern New England invalidates New Hampshire’s parental notice law in its entirety, and remands the case for future consideration.  NOW (National Organization for Women) v. Scheidler, after 21 years of litigation, affirms the free speech of pro-life activists and sidewalk counselors, ruling against NOW’s claim that all pro-lifers were responsible for the criminal activity of a few people.  SFLA hires its first full-time staff and launches its Pro-Life Field Program, leading to 330 new pro-life student organizations in 4 years.

2007 The U.S. Supreme Court upholds the federal “partial-birth abortion” ban (passed in 1993) in Gonzales v. Carhart. This ban restricts one type of late-term abortion (D&X), forcing abortionists to find other methods of aborting older unborn babies.  The first nationwide 40 Days for Life campaign launches. This semi-annual grassroots effort has succeeded in mobilizing new pro-life activists and shutting down abortion facilities through continual presence and prayer.

2009 Gallup releases poll results indicating that, for the first time, a majority of Americans (51%) identify themselves as pro-life.  Despite massive pro-life efforts, Congress narrowly passes healthcare reform with the potential for tax-payer funded abortions.