Preparing for a Post-Roe America: The History and Context of Pro-Life Laws in the States

Since the very beginning of the American experiment, our nation has cherished the right to life. It was the first of three unalienable rights named in our Declaration of Independence, and in the early days of our nation, English common law made actions that infringed upon this right -- such as abortion -- illegal. By the time Alaska and Hawaii were admitted into the Union, all U.S. states had statutory prohibitions on abortion. It was not until 1970 that Hawaii became the first state to legalize abortion for any reason.

Then on January 22, 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Roe v. Wade that abortion is protected under the U.S. Constitution on the basis of a supposed right to privacy provided by the Fourteenth Amendment. This monumental decision blocked nearly every state-level protection for life in the womb and made abortion throughout pregnancy the legal default in the United States unless Congress or the individual states pass laws restricting it. In the nearly 50 years since Roe, states have enacted numerous laws protecting life in the womb, only for many of them to be blocked by the courts. Now, in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, the Supreme Court has an opportunity to correct its wrongful decision in Roe and return the question of abortion's legality to Congress and the state legislatures.

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