US Abortion Restrictions Overview

In 1973, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Roe v. Wade, that a woman's right to obtain an abortion was protected under the federal constitution. The core holding of Roe, which remains the law today, is that the government may not prohibit a woman from obtaining an abortion prior to fetal viability, and may do so after viability so long as abortion remains available as necessary to protect a woman's life or health. The Court's decision in Roe v. Wade granted women control over their reproductive lives in ways which had previously been denied to them by various criminal and civil laws.

Moreover, this landmark decision helped combat sex discrimination and change perceptions about women's roles in our society by recognizing that a woman’s right to make childbearing decisions is an essential part of women's overall equality. Two decades after Roe, the Supreme Court recognized in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, that "[t]he ability of women to participate equally in the economic and social life of the Nation has been facilitated by their ability to control their reproductive lives."

The decision in Roe remains one of the Supreme Court's most controversial decisions. Shortly after Roe was decided, state legislatures began passing laws aimed at chipping away at the right to abortion. In addition, the federal government has taken steps to restrict women's access to safe, legal abortion nationally by limiting public funding and, in 2003, passing the first-ever federal abortion ban, which banned so-called "partial birth" abortions.

Common abortion restrictions in the United States include:

  • Bans/method bans, including so-called "partial birth" abortion bans that outlaw abortion procedures that doctors have found to be among the safest and, like the Federal Abortion Ban, often do not include an exception from the ban to protect women's health.
  • Mandatory delay requirements and biased counseling laws that dictate information that physicians are required to provide their patients.
  • TRAP laws which target the medical practices of doctors who provide abortions and impose on them burdensome requirements which are different and more stringent than the requirements imposed on other medical practices.
  • Forced parental involvement in adolescents' decisions about whether to have an abortion.
  • Restrictions on funding for abortion, including the elimination of federal funding for low-income women seeking abortions, bans on private health insurance coverage of abortion services, and the elimination of abortion services at public hospitals.

For over fifteen years, the Center has brought challenges to these laws in an effort to protect women's access to safe and legal abortion. Read more about the Center's U.S. litigation, our state advocacy work and federal advocacy work.