Introduction to Reproductive Rights Archives
Introduction to Reproductive Rights

The continuing legal conflict over reproductive rights has embroiled the US legal system for decades. Since the US Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Roe v. Wade, the regulation of abortion services has been a major target of legislation in the US Congress and in the legislatures of every US state. Despite numerous Supreme Court decisions and countless pieces of state and federal legislation, the controversy surrounding abortion and its appropriate level of constitutional protection has never truly subsided. Under Roe, a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion has remained among the rights protected by the US Constitution, a holding that has been affirmed numerous times. However, a wide array of restrictions intended to curtail the availability and accessibility of abortion services have been adopted at both the federal and state levels. Many of those regulations have been upheld by the Supreme Court and lower federal courts of appeals under the rationale of protecting potential life. This ideological tension between a woman’s constitutional right to choose an abortion, and the belief that abortion is immoral and should not be protected by the Constitution, has persisted as one of the most intractable legal and political conflicts in modern American history.

Following the November 2010 elections, legislation addressing abortion was taken up by Congress and state legislatures throughout the country. Much of this legislation sought to place additional limitations on abortion services, such as requiring the performance of ultrasounds before an abortion, extending mandatory waiting periods and placing greater restrictions on abortions in later stages of pregnancy. This renewed attention to abortion services sparked litigation in state and federal courts, testing the constitutional limits of the right to choose abortion and the ability of the government to restrict its availability.