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January 22, 1973: Roe v. Wade

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(CNN) -- Norma McCorvey was 21 years old and pregnant with her third child when two young female Texas lawyers recruited her to be "Jane Roe," the lead plaintiff in the Roe v. Wade class-action lawsuit. The "Wade" was Henry Wade, the District Attorney in Dallas County, charged with upholding Texas state law.

McCorvey never had an abortion, delivering a girl that she gave up for adoption. But the landmark decision she championed proved a critical, if not final, chapter in the great abortion debate.

On January 22, 1973, the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional, by a 7-2 vote, a Texas law prohibiting abortion except for the purpose of saving a woman's life.

start quoteAbortion raises moral and spiritual questions over which honorable persons can disagree sincerely and profoundly.end quote
-- Associate Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun in Roe v. Wade majority decision
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"Controversy over the meaning of our nation's most majestic guarantees frequently has been turbulent," Associate Justice Harry Blackmun said in the majority opinion.

"Abortion raises moral and spiritual questions over which honorable persons can disagree sincerely and profoundly. But those disagreements did not then and do not now relieve us of our duty to apply the Constitution faithfully."

Dr. Sarah Weddington, the then-27-year-old attorney who argued for the anonymous "Roe" before the Supreme Court, recently told CNN that the ruling allowed women to be "happy" and "independent [knowing] they can make the most basic decisions of life -- and those are when and where to bear children."

Those opposed to abortion strongly disagree, calling themselves "pro-life" activists and labeling abortion the "murder" of unborn children.

While Roe v. Wade has not been overturned, its passionate core arguments often echo in legal, political and spiritual circles.

In a single week in February 2003, for instance, the Supreme Court ruled not to scrap an Indiana requirement that women must be counseled before they have an abortion and decided that anti-abortion protesters cannot be prosecuted for blocking clinic doors -- two of many abortion-related issues justices have considered since the historic 1973 ruling.


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