The current judicial interpretation of the U.S. Constitution regarding abortion in the United States, following the Supreme Court of the United States 1973 landmark decision in Roe v. Wade, and subsequent companion decisions, is that abortion is legal but may be restricted by the states to varying degrees. States have passed laws to restrict late term abortions, require parental notification for minors, and mandate the disclosure of abortion risk information to patients prior to the procedure.
The key, deliberated article of the U.S. Constitution is the Fourteenth Amendment, which states that
The official report of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, issued in 1983 after extensive hearings on the Human Life Amendment (proposed by Senators Orrin Hatch and Thomas Eagleton), stated:
One aspect of the legal abortion regime now in place has been determining when the fetus is "viable" outside the womb as a measure of when the "life" of the fetus is its own (and therefore subject to being protected by the state). In the majority opinion delivered by the court in Roe v. Wade, viability was defined as "potentially able to live outside the woman's womb, albeit with artificial aid. Viability is usually placed at about seven months (28 weeks, approx. 196 days) but may occur earlier, even at 24 weeks." When the court ruled in 1973, the then-current medical technology suggested that viability could occur as early as 24 weeks. Advances over the past three decades have allowed fetuses that are a few weeks less than 24 weeks old to survive outside the woman's womb. These scientific achievements, while life-saving for premature babies, have made the determination of being "viable" somewhat more complicated. The youngest child thought to have survived a premature birth in the United States was Amillia Taylor (born on 24 October 2006 in Miami, Florida, at 21 weeks and 6 days gestational age, approx. 153 days vs. possibly expected gestational period of 40 weeks, approx. 280 days).
In comparison to other developed countries, the procedure is more available in the United States in terms of how late the abortion can legally be performed. However, in terms of other aspects such as government funding, privacy for non-adults, or geographical access, some U.S. states are far more restrictive. In most European countries abortion on-demand is allowed only during the first trimester, with abortions during later stages of pregnancy being allowed only for specific reasons (e.g. physical or mental health reasons, risk of birth defects, if the woman was raped etc.). The reasons that can be invoked by a woman seeking an abortion after the first trimester vary by country, for instance, some countries, such as Denmark, provide a wide range of reasons, including social and economic ones.
There are no laws or restrictions regulating abortion in Canada, while Australia places heavier restrictions on the procedure. In many countries the right to abortion has been legalized by respective parliaments, while in the U.S. the right to abortion has been deemed a part of a constitutional right to privacy by the Supreme Court.
Because of the split between federal and state law, legal access to abortion continues to vary somewhat by state. Geographic availability, however, varies dramatically, with 87 percent of U.S. counties having no abortion provider. Moreover, due to the Hyde Amendment, many state health programs which poor women rely on for their health care do not cover abortions; currently only 17 states (including California, Illinois and New York) offer or require such coverage.
The 1992 case of Planned Parenthood v. Casey overturned Roe's strict trimester formula, but reemphasized the right to abortion as grounded in the general sense of liberty and privacy protected under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution: "If the right of privacy means anything, it is the right of the individual, married or single, to be free from unwarranted governmental intrusion into matters so fundamentally affecting a person as the decision whether to bear or beget a child." Advancements in medical technology meant that a fetus might be considered viable, and thus have some basis of a right to life, at 22 or 23 weeks rather than at the 28 that was more common at the time Roe was decided. For this reason, the old trimester formula was ruled obsolete, with a new focus on viability of the fetus.
Since 1995, led by Congressional Republicans, the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate have moved several times to pass measures banning the procedure of intact dilation and extraction, also commonly known as partial birth abortion. After several long and emotional debates on the issue, such measures passed twice by wide margins, but President Bill Clinton vetoed those bills in April 1996 and October 1997 on the grounds that they did not include health exceptions. Congressional supporters of the bill argue that a health exception would render the bill unenforceable, since the Doe v. Bolton decision defined "health" in vague terms, justifying any motive for obtaining an abortion. Subsequent Congressional attempts at overriding the veto were unsuccessful.
On October 2, 2003, with a vote of 281-142, the House again approved a measure banning the procedure, called the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act. Through this legislation, a doctor could face up to two years in prison and face civil lawsuits for performing such an abortion. A woman who undergoes the procedure cannot be prosecuted under the measure. The measure contains an exemption to allow the procedure if the woman's life is threatened.
On October 21, 2003, the United States Senate passed the same bill by a vote of 64-34, with a number of Democrats joining in support. The bill was signed by President George W. Bush on November 5, 2003, but a federal judge blocked its enforcement in several states just a few hours after it became public law. The Supreme Court upheld the nationwide ban on the procedure in the case Gonzales v. Carhart on April 18, 2007. The 5-4 ruling said the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act does not conflict with previous Court decisions regarding abortion.
The decision marked the first time the court allowed a ban on any type of abortion since 1973. The swing vote, which came from moderate justice Anthony Kennedy, was joined by Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and the two recent appointees, Samuel Alito and Chief Justice John Roberts.
The following states have initiatives regarding abortion:
The initiative was proposed jointly by Kristine Burton and Michael Burton of Colorado for Equal Rights. Colorado Amendment 48 was a proposed initiative to amend the definition of a person to "any human being from the moment of fertilization." On November 4, 2008, the initiative was turned down by 73.2% of the voters.
Kansas lawmakers approved sweeping anti-abortion legislation (HB 2253) on April 6, 2013 that says life begins at fertilization, forbids abortion based on gender and bans Planned Parenthood from providing sex education in schools.
In 2015 Kansas became the first state to ban the dilation and evacuation procedure, a common second-trimester abortion procedure.
On June 19, 2006, Governor Kathleen Blanco signed into law a ban on most forms of abortion (unless the life of the mother was in danger or her health would be permanently damaged) once it passed the state legislature. Although she felt exclusions for rape or incest would have "been reasonable," she felt she should not veto based on those reasons. The bill would only go into effect if the United States Supreme Court reversed Roe v. Wade. Louisiana's measure would allow the prosecution of any person who performed or aided in an abortion. The penalties include up to 10 years in prison and a maximum fine of $100,000.
On February 27, 2006, Mississippi's House Public Health Committee voted to approve a ban on abortion, and that bill died after the House and Senate failed to agree on compromise legislation.
On November 8, 2011, the Personhood amendment, to define personhood as beginning "at the moment of fertilization, cloning, or the functional equivalent thereof," was rejected by 55% of voters.
North Dakota's HB 1572, otherwise known as the Personhood of Children Act, was a bill in the North Dakota Legislature which aims to "provide equality and rights to all human beings at every stage of biological development". This step could eventually eliminate all types of abortion for nearly any reason in the state of North Dakota. It would allocate rights of "the pre-born, partially born." If it had passed, it would have likely been used to challenge Roe v. Wade.
This legislation, sponsored by State Representative Dan Ruby, passed the North Dakota House of Representatives on February 17, 2009 by a vote of 51-41. On April 3, 2009 the North Dakota Senate defeated HB 1572 in a 29 to 16 vote.
In 2016, Oklahoma state legislators passed a bill to criminalize abortion for providers, potentially charging them with up to three years in prison.
In 2004, a bill outlawing abortion passed both houses of the legislature, but was vetoed by the Governor due to a technicality. The state's legislature subsequently passed five laws curtailing the legality of abortion in 2005. The majority of a legislative "task force" then issued a report recommending that the Legislature illegalize all abortions, which would lead to a challenge of the constitutionality of Roe v. Wade in the United States Supreme Court. A separate minority report criticizing the process and reaching different conclusions was also released.
In February 2006, the Legislature passed the Women's Health and Human Life Protection Act, which was signed into law by Governor Mike Rounds on March 6, 2006. This law would have forbidden abortion under virtually every circumstance, including in cases of rape and incest. The law allowed "a medical procedure designed or intended to prevent the death of a pregnant mother." Physicians performing such procedures would have been required to "...make reasonable medical efforts under the circumstances to preserve both the life of the mother and the life of her unborn child."
The act had specifically defined pregnancy as beginning at the point of conception rather than at implantation into the uterine wall (see beginning of pregnancy controversy), which might have meant that WHHLPA applied to emergency contraception and possibly all forms of hormonal contraception.
Several members of the South Dakota legislative majority, as well as Governor Rounds, acknowledged that the overt goal of WHHLPA was to get the Supreme Court to overturn Roe per the recommendation of the task force (the Supreme Court at that time was shifting in a conservative direction, one that might have been more amenable to overturning Roe).
A referendum to repeal the Women's Health and Human Life Protection Act was placed on ballot for the November 2006 statewide election due to a successful petition drive by the organization South Dakota Healthy Families. On May 30, over 38,000 petition signatures were filed, more than twice the 17,000 required to place a measure on the ballot. On November 7, WHHLPA was repealed by the South Dakota electorate; the vote was 56%-44% favoring repeal.
The Roe v. Wade case, tried in Texas, stands at the center of years of national debate about the issue of abortion. Henry Wade was serving as District Attorney of Dallas County at the time. In 2013, a bill restricting access to abortion was passed. Since the passage of the bill, abortion access in the state of Texas has declined substantially.
On August 29, 2014 .S. District Judge Lee Yeakel struck down as unconstitutional two provisions of Texas' omnibus anti-abortion bill, House Bill 2 that was to come into effect on September 1. The regulation would have closed about a dozen abortion clinics, leaving only eight places in Texas to get a legal abortion, all located in major cities. Judge Lee Yeakel ruled that the state's regulation was unconstitutional and would have placed an undue burden on women, particularly on poor and rural women living in west Texas and the Rio Grande Valley.