Roe v. Wade: A Crack in a Long-Standing Precedent

Alia Sajjadian

The recent Texas Heartbeat Act, enacted in 2021, has reinvigorated the legal debate about abortion and threatens to weaken the precedent of Roe v. Wade. This 1973 Supreme Court decision ruled that a woman’s right to have an abortion without excessive government regulation is protected by the Constitution. The landmark case also established that government restrictions to this right could only be imposed after fetal viability has been achieved, which is commonly recognized as around 24 weeks of gestation.

 The newly implemented Texas law blatantly disregards the established viability standard of Roe v. Wade by banning abortions after the detection of embryonic cardiac activity, which can be as early as 6 weeks, without exceptions for incest or rape. In more practical terms, this law prevents any abortion as soon as 10 days after a missed period, which is before the majority of women realize they are pregnant, and effectively bans all abortions within the state. More consequentially, the current, conservative leaning Supreme Court allowed the Texas law to remain in place foreshadowing the likely demise of the 7-2 decision rendered by Supreme Court Justices in 1973. 

In addition to bringing the constitutionality of Roe v. Wade into question, the new Heartbeat law allows for anti-abortion proponents to not only take civil action against women who terminate pregnancy, but permits them to pursue legal action against those citizens who aid her (whether that person is her physician or the Uber driver who drives her to the procedure). Besides creating a vigilante system of enforcement pitting citizen against citizen, the Texas law insidiously creates an environment of tension and fear by attacking women and her support networks. Since the law does not directly outlaw abortion, it skirts judicial review and walks a fine line outside the legal precedent of Roe v. Wade. While this legal loophole of sorts may withstand judicial challenges, the more consequential effect will be its impact on the physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing of women who are already facing a difficult and potentially life-changing choice.