1973 – Women’s movements win legalization of abortion in USA

Many women seeking abortion in the USA prior to the 1960s were at great danger, as the procedure was not only illegal but often practiced by back-street abortionists using unsafe techniques. A small group of determined activists had been campaigning for abortion law reform for decades, but the emergence of the civil rights and women’s movements changed the climate, enabling the Roe vs Wade court case to eventually make abortion legal.

In 1964, the Association for the Study of Abortion (ASA) was founded, consisting mainly of doctors and other professionals calling for abortion law reform to allow women to access medically necessary abortions. ASA was joined by Planned Parenthood, which advocated for women’s reproductive rights. These two organizations gave the movement prestige and legitimacy, aiding the movement in the eventual court case that legalized abortion.

While these movements advocated reform, the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws (NARAL) was the first national organization created solely to campaign for the legalization of abortions. From its inception, NARAL chose to engage in controversial direct actions, and by 1969 – with abortion now a central feminist issue – had gained much support from the women’s liberation movement.

NARAL organized regular demonstrations and events, and women’s groups across the US organized ‘speak-outs’, where women who had undergone abortions could share their experiences. NARAL also publicly advocated referral services in which women were provided with resources and referrals to abortionists, and grass-roots education initiatives to raise awareness of issues relating to sexuality, women’s reproductive rights, and women’s health.

In 1970, the Roe vs Wade case was filed in the US District Court of Texas on behalf of a woman under the alias Jane Roe, who wished to have an abortion. When the court ruled against Roe, her lawyers decided to take the case to the US Supreme Court. On January 22, 1973, the abortion repeal movement was victorious with the Roe v. Wade case finally legalizing abortion in the USA (only India had ever legislated for this prior to 1973). The campaign succeeded in all of its goals, and inspired many women to assert their reproductive rights.