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Julie Rikelman and Roe v. Wade

Updated: Aug 22, 2022

Roe v. Wade is a 1973 lawsuit that famously led to the Supreme Court making a ruling on women's right to an abortion. In 1970, Jane Roe (a fictional name used in court documents to protect the plaintiff’s identity) filed a lawsuit against Henry Wade, the district attorney of Dallas County, Texas, where she resided, challenging a Texas law making abortion illegal except on a doctor’s orders to save a woman’s life. Roe claimed her right to “liberty” under the 14th Amendment and argued the Texas law unconstitutionally impinged on her marital, familial, and sexual privacy.

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At this stage, it was argued that abortion rights are absolute and that a pregnancy could be ended at any time and for any reason the woman chooses. The Supreme Court disagreed with Roe’s assertion of an absolute right to terminate a pregnancy in any way and at any time and attempted to balance a woman’s right to privacy with a state’s interest in regulating abortion.


In Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decided two important things:

  1. The United States Constitution provides a fundamental "right to privacy" that protects a woman's right to choose whether to have an abortion.

  2. But the abortion right is not absolute. It must be balanced against the government's interest in protecting women's health and prenatal life.


Roe v. Wade changed the way states could regulate abortion and characterised abortion as something covered by constitutional privacy rights. Since Roe v. Wade, many abortion opponents have been pushing for stricter abortion laws. The opponents haven't been able to ban abortions outright, but have brought about certain exceptions that place limitations on abortions. States continue to pass abortion laws, which are frequently challenged in federal courts. However, only a few make it to the Supreme Court.



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Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization centres on a 2018 Mississippi law that would prohibit almost all abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. Unlike the Louisiana case, where Julie Rikelman, CRR’s litigation director, successfully argued before SCOTUS in 2020, this law seeks to outlaw the procedure entirely. Julie Rikelman and a small team of lawyers at the Center for Reproductive Rights, a legal advocacy group, are representing the only clinic left in Mississippi, which sued to stop the law from going into effect.


Her approach in December will resemble how she argued the Louisiana case.


Rikelman's strategy centres on stare decisis, the legal principle that courts should give deference to precedents. "Precedent will absolutely be critical to this case," she says. The last serious challenge to Roe was in the 1992 case of Planned Parenthood v. Casey. A split court ultimately reaffirmed Roe and said states could not place an "undue burden" on women seeking abortions.


Julies's team has stressed the importance of respecting established rights, including ones that might appeal to the conservative justices, such as gun ownership. Julie argued before the justices that campaigners would continue to fight if the supreme court went against reproductive choice.


“If Roe were overturned, abortion would become illegal—either immediately or very quickly—in roughly half the states in the nation’’


Written by Kalash Pandey

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