The Lead

A timeline of abortion law in the United States

By: - June 24, 2022 11:56 am

Hundreds of protestors rally in Harrisburg on Saturday, May 14, 2022, to promote abortion access. (Capital-Star photo by Marley Parish)

By Cate Folsom and Sherman Smith

U.S. abortion law timeline

1910

Abortion is illegal in all states, with some exceptions to save the life of the patient.

1959

The American Law Institute proposes a model penal code for state abortion laws. The code advocates legalizing abortion for reasons including the mental or physical health of the mother, pregnancy due to rape and incest, and fetal deformity.

1967

April 25: Colorado Gov. John A. Love signs the first American Law Institute-model abortion law in the United States, allowing abortion in cases of permanent mental or physical disability of either the child or mother or in cases of rape or incest. Similar laws are passed in California, Oregon, and North Carolina.

1970

April 11: New York legalizes abortion up to the 24th week of pregnancy, repealing the state’s 1830 law that banned abortion “after quickening” except to save a woman’s life. Similar laws are passed in Alaska, Hawaii and Washington state.

1971

April 21: The U.S. Supreme Court rules on its first case involving abortion in United States v. Vuitch, upholding a District of Columbia law permitting abortion only to preserve a patient’s life or health, meaning “psychological and physical well-being.”

1972

By year’s end 13 states have an American Law Institute-type law. Four states allow abortion on demand. Mississippi allows abortion for rape and incest [1966] while Alabama allows abortion for the mother’s physical health [1954]. In 31 states abortion is allowed only to save the patient’s life.

1973

Jan. 22: The U.S. Supreme Court issues its ruling in Roe v. Wade, finding that a “right of privacy” it had earlier discovered was “broad enough to encompass” a right to abortion and adopting a trimester scheme of pregnancy. In the first trimester, a state could enact virtually no regulation. In the second trimester, the state could enact some regulation, but only for the purpose of protecting maternal health. In the third trimester, after viability, a state could ostensibly “proscribe” abortion, provided it made exceptions to preserve the life and health of the woman seeking abortion. Issued on the same day, Doe v. Bolton defines “health” to mean “all factors” that affect the woman, including “physical, emotional, psychological, familial, and the woman’s age.”

1977

June 20: In Maher v. Roe, Beal v. Doe and Poelker v. Doe, the U.S. Supreme Court holds that federal and state governments are under no obligation to fund abortion in public assistance programs, even if childbirth expenses are paid for indigent women and even if the abortion is deemed to be “medically necessary.”

1980

June 30: In Harris v. McRae, the U.S. Supreme Court upholds the Hyde Amendment, sponsored by Rep. Henry Hyde, R-Ill., ruling there is no constitutional right for women to receive abortions at public expense, as through Medicaid.

1981

March 23: In H.L. v. Matheson, the U.S. Supreme Court approves a Utah parental notification law that requires a doctor to notify the parents of a minor girl who is still living at home as her parents’ dependent when an abortion is scheduled.

1982

March 10: The Senate Judiciary Committee approves the Hatch Amendment, which would give the states and Congress joint authority to regulate abortion.

1983

June 15: In Akron v. Akron Center for Reproductive Health, the U.S. Supreme Court strikes down state requirements that abortions performed after the first trimester be done in a hospital, women’s right to know laws and waiting periods after information is provided to the woman seeking abortion before she can consent to an abortion. However, the Court rules that states may insist that only licensed physicians perform abortions.

1986

June 11: In Thornburgh v. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the U.S. Supreme Court strikes down state laws mandating that a doctor use the method most likely to allow the child to be born alive in post-viability abortions.

1988

July 2: The U.S. District Court in New York upholds the constitutionality of Reagan administration regulations barring the Department of Defense from funding abortions.

1989

July 3: In Webster v. Reproductive Health Services, the U.S. Supreme Court, upholding portions of a Missouri law, finds the U.S. Constitution does not require government to make public facilities such as hospitals available for use in performing abortions.

1990

June 25: In Ohio v. Akron Center for Reproductive Health, the U.S. Supreme Court upholds a one-parent notification requirement with a judicial bypass procedure. The Court also rules, in Hodgson v. Minnesota, that a two-parent notification law with a judicial bypass is constitutional.

1991

May 23: In Rust v. Sullivan, the U.S. Supreme Court upholds the George H.W. Bush administration’s regulations prohibiting routine counseling and referral for abortion in 4,000 clinics that receive federal Title 10 family planning funds.

1992

June 29: In Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the U.S. Supreme Court reaffirms the core holdings of Roe but modifies it by discarding the trimester scheme, upholding certain abortion restrictions and adopting the “undue burden” test of abortion laws, requiring opponents of an abortion regulation to prove the provision would create an “undue burden” on a woman’s right to abortion in order for it to be declared unconstitutional.

1994

June 30: In Madsen v. Women’s Center Inc., the U.S. Supreme Court says judges may create buffer zones to keep anti-abortion demonstrators away from abortion clinics.

1995

Aug. 10: Norma McCorvey, the “Jane Roe” of Roe v. Wade, tells a nationwide audience on “Nightline” that she rejects abortion and the abortion-rights movement and now supports the right to life of unborn children. She earlier revealed that this pregnancy was not the product of a rape, as she had previously contended. In an interview shortly before her death for the 2020 documentary “AKA Jane Roe,”  McCorvey claimed that she had been paid by anti-abortion groups to support their cause, according to USA Today.

1997

June 16: The U.S. Supreme Court upholds a Montana law that requires that abortions be performed only by physicians, not their assistants.

2007

April 18: U.S. Supreme Court, in Gonzales v. Carhart and Gonzales v. Planned Parenthood Federation of America, upholds the Partial-Birth Abortion Act of 2003.

2016

June 27: In Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, the U.S. Supreme Court rules two Texas abortion restrictions are unconstitutional because they would shut down most abortion providers and create an “undue burden” on women seeking an abortion.

2020

June 29: The U.S. Supreme Court, in June Medical Services v. Russo, strikes down a law nearly identical to Whole Woman’s Health that would have made abortion virtually inaccessible in Louisiana.

2021

Sept. 2: Texas implements a law banning abortion at approximately six weeks of pregnancy, before many people know they are pregnant.

Cate Folsom is the editor of the Nebraska Examiner. Sherman Smith is the editor of the Kansas Reflector. Both are sibling sites of the Pennsylvania Capital-Star. 

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.