Abortion in the US, as reproductive rights, stay very important for many people. What are the origins ? What can we observe with the Supreme Court ?

Abortion and US
Abortion right discussing in the US Supreme Court

I – 1973: ROE V. WADE

What about the decision ?

Roe v. Wade (“Roe versus Wade”), often referred to as simply Roe, is the name given to the landmark1 1973 U.S. Supreme Court ruling2 recognizing the right to abortion as a fundamental freedom guaranteed under the Constitution for nearly 50 years.

As with most3 Supreme Court cases4, Roe v. Wade is named after the two conflictingparties5 at hand6: the plaintiff7, Jane Roe, a pregnant woman seeking abortion8, and the defendant,Henry Wade, an attorney9 representing the State of Texas, where abortion was illegal at the time. The name “Jane Roe” is actually10 a pseudonym resembling “Jane Doe”, the default American name usually given to any anonymous woman.

When the Roe v. Wade ruling was issued11 by the Supreme Court in 1973, abortion was legally considered as a constitutional right. As such12, a person undergoing13 or a health worker performing abortion14 under safe and appropriate medical circumstances could no longer face prosecution15 or jail16.

Vocabulary of this decision about abortion

1. landmark: historique. – 2. a ruling: un arrêt (juridique)

3. as with most: comme pour la plupart de – 4. a case: une affaire (jurid.) – 5. parties: les parties (jurid.) – 6. at hand: en présence – 7. the plaintiff: le plaignant (jurid.) – 8. seeking abortion: cherchant à avorter – 9 an attorney (US): un avocat 10. actually: en réalité, en fait

11. the ruling was issued: la decision a été rendue – 12. as such: de fait – 13. undergoing abortion: subissant un avortement – 14. performing abortion: pratiquant l’avortement – 15. face prosecution: s’exposer à des poursuites judiciaires – 16. jail: la prison


Role and current

As the highest judiciary court in the U.S., the Supreme Court’s role is to assess whether18 existing federal laws are constitutional or not. If the Court finds that19 a federal law is unconstitutional, then the law is overturned20 (= cancelled). * However, the Supreme Court can assess the constitutionality of a federal law only if a case concerning this specific law hasfirst been brought before the Court21.

The U.S. Supreme Court is made up of22 9 members: 1 Chief Justice and 8 associate Justices (“Justice” is the name given to a judge sitting on23 the Supreme Court).
All 9 Justices are appointed24 by the sitting U.S. President25, after a Senate confirmation hearing26. Additionally, all Justices have a lifetime tenure27, meaning they are appointed for life.

With 6 Republican Justices and 3 Democratic Justices, the current Supreme Court has a significant conservative majority.

Vocabulary of the US Supreme Court about abortion

17. current: actuel – 18. to assess whether… or not.: déterminer si…ou non. – 19. If the Court finds that…: si la Cour estime que… 20. the law is overturned: la loi est abrogée
21. a case […] has first been brought before the Court: une affaire […] a initialement été portée devant la Cour
22. is made up of: est composée de – 23. A judge sitting on the Supreme Court: un juge siégeant à la Cour suprême

24. are appointed: sont nommés – 25. the sitting president: le président en exercice – 26. a Senate confirmation hearing: une audience de confirmation du Sénat – 27. a lifetime tenure: un mandat à vie

III – 2022 : The Supreme Court overturns Roe V. Wade

Nearly 50 years after its introduction, Roe v. Wadewas overturned by the Supreme Court in June 2022 following the 2022 case Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.
This 2022 ruling stated that27 the right to abortion is not provided for in the U.S. Constitution28.

In practice, the controversial decision of overturning Roe v. Wade means that each of the 50 U.S. federal states is now free to either legalize, restrict or29 criminalize access to abortion on its territory.

The decision has been considered a setback for women’s rights30 by “pro-choice” activists, while31 anti-abortion activists have seen it as a major victory.

At least 13 traditionally conservative states have since strongly restricted or criminalized abortion: Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas and West Virginia.

Meanwhile32, other states chose to use the November 2022 Midterm elections33 as an opportunity to expand reproductive rights by holding votes34 on the issue of abortion during the Midterms.

In California, Michigan, Vermont, Kentucky and Montana, voters showed support for increased protection of abortion rights. These five states have since either enshrined abortion in their state constitutions35 or rejected anti-abortion laws.

Vocabulary about abortion and Constitution

27. stated that: affirmait que – 28. the right to abortion is not provided for in the U.S. Constitution:le droit à l’avortement n’est pas prévu par la constitution américaine

29. either…or…:
soit…soit… – 30. a setback for women’s rights:un recul des droits des femmes – 31. while: tandis que

32. meanwhile: dans le même temps – 33. the Midterm elections/the Midterms: les élections américaines de mi-mandat

34. by holding votes: en organisant des scrutins – 35. These five states have […] enshrined abortion in their state constitutions: ces cinq états ont inscrit le droit à l’avortement dans leurs constitutions


50 years after the decision : what happens ?

Although36 Roe v. Wade was effectively37 overturned in 2022 by the Supreme Court, January 2023 would have marked the 50th anniversary of this historic Supreme Court decision issued38 on January 22, 1973. In a speech to commemorate 50 years of Roe v. Wade, Democratic Vice President Kamala Harris urged39 Americans to further protect40 and expand abortion rights at the state level, while assuring the Biden administration would also push to41 increase42 abortion access.

Vice President Harris’ speech comes as43 Republicans have taken control of the House of Representatives44 (the lower of the two chambers of Congress45), which means that abortion rights laws have little chance to pass46 at the federal level. In a recent development47, Florida’s Republican governor Ron DeSantis passed an anti-abortion law criminalizing the dispensing of abortion pills48 by pharmacists. Under this law49, pharmacists could face criminal charges50 – including a 5-year prison term51 – for delivering abortion pills.


36. although: bien que – 37. effectively: dans les faits – 38. this […] decision issued: cette décision rendue

39. urged: a exhorté – 40. to further protect: à continuer de protéger – 41. push to: s’efforcer de 42. increase: accroître  

43. Harris’ speech comes as…: le discours de Harris intervient alors que… – 44. The House of Representatives: la Chambre des représentants – 45. Congress:le Congrès américain– 46.abortion rights laws have little chance to pass : les lois sur le droit à l’avortement ont peu de chances d’être votées
47. in a recent development: récemment – 48. the dispensing of abortion pills: la délivrance de pillules abortives 49. under this law:en vertu de cette loi– 50. criminal charges: des poursuites pénales – 51. a prison term:une peine de prison

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