CHICAGO — It was 49 and a half years ago, almost to the day, that the Supreme Court ruled women have a fundamental right to choose whether to have an abortion.
When that case came before the Supreme Court in 1973, the question was “does the constitution recognize a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy by abortion?”
They ruled it did. At the time, abortion was legal in just four states and allowed in certain circumstances in 16 others. Ever since the ruling, there have been countless efforts to return the power back to the states.
Legal expert Ron Allen spoke with Northwestern University leaders Friday, sharing that when Roe v. Wade was first introduced to the Supreme Court, many felt it was not a constitutional issue.
“The original opinion in Roe V. Wade had no supporters among any serious constitutional scholars. It had supporters among people who felt strongly about abortion, but it was an abomination as a case,” he said. “Now that doesn’t mean it should be overruled.”
Jane Roe was a pseudonym for 22-year-old Norma McCorvey — who was seeking an abortion for an unwanted pregnancy. She sued the Dallas County district attorney, alleging the law was unconstitutionally vague and violated her constitutional right to personal privacy.
When she won her case, there was a nationwide ripple effect, including a criminal case being thrown out in Chicago against an underground abortion group known as “The Janes.”
“As we were, sort of an open secret in the City of Chicago, the cops knew about us, the courts knew about us, I mean they didn’t all know everything, but it was like ‘oh ya ya,'” said one of “The Janes” Judith Arcana.
The group was raided just a year before Roe v. Wade after performing around 11,000 illegal abortions. Arcana said what’s happening now is not a return to the time before Roe v. Wade.
“That’s the most horrific aspect to my mind, that this is not in fact a return to 50 years ago, this is a turn toward a time that is far more frightening,” Arcana said.
Citing protests outside of abortion clinics and violent acts against doctors as additional hurdles women seeking abortions didn’t face back before the passing of Roe v. Wade.
“Those people today, are actually in much worse condition, a much worse situation than what we dealt with when the Janes were working,” she said.
Arcana said she’s paid attention over the past 50 years as conservative states attempted to create different abortion regulations, with many struck down by courts. But she said when SCOTUS upheld the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act, passed by Congress in 2007, she knew it was a matter of time before Roe v. Wade was overturned.
“There’s more to fear now. Much more to fear. And it’s pretty fearful stuff.”
Arcana believes more underground groups will pop up like “The Janes” in states where abortion is now illegal.