A march and rally in support of abortion rights for women draws several hundred thousand people to demonstrations in Washington, D.C. One of the largest protest marches on the nation’s capital, the pro-choice rally came as the U.S. Supreme Court was about to consider the constitutionality of a Pennsylvania state law that limited access to abortions. Many abortion rights advocates feared that the high court, with its conservative majority, might endorse the Pennsylvania law or even overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that made abortion legal.
In Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court ruled that women, as part of their constitutional right to privacy, could terminate a pregnancy during the first two trimesters. Only during the last trimester, when the fetus can survive outside the womb, would states be permitted to regulate abortion in a healthy pregnancy. The historic and controversial ruling, essentially reversing a century of anti-abortion legislation in America, was the result of a call by many American women for control over their own reproductive processes.
Although defended by the Supreme Court on several occasions, the legalization of abortion became a divisive and intensely emotional public issue. The debate intensified during the 1980s, and both anti- and pro-choice organizations strengthened their membership and political influence. By 1992, 12 years of Republican rule in the White House had weakened abortion rights, and the Supreme Court threatened to overturn the 1973 ruling. In April 1992, a massive pro-choice rally was held in Washington, and soon after, the high court refused to endorse Pennsylvania’s new restrictions and left the Roe v. Wade decision intact.
In January 1993, Democrat Bill Clinton was inaugurated as president and within days of taking office overturned several key pieces of anti-abortion executive legislation that had been signed by his Republican predecessors, Ronald Reagan and George H. Bush. In the 1990s, some extreme opponents of abortion rights turned to violent methods in their campaign to make abortion illegal again.
On April 25, 2005, more than a million abortion-rights activists again hit the Mall in Washington as part of the March for Women’s Lives. They protested what they saw as attempts by President George W. Bush’s administration to chip away at women’s reproductive rights, as well as the U.S. ban on aid to abortion clinics abroad.
With the resignation of frequent swing vote Sandra Day O’Connor from the Supreme Court in 2005, who though conservative had helped block efforts to overturn Roe v. Wade, abortion-rights advocated worried that the landmark ruling might be in jeopardy. With South Dakota’s passing of a law to ban nearly all abortions in 2006, many expect to see the issue in front of the U.S. Supreme Court again in the near future.