Rehnquist, J. -- Dissenting



The Court's opinion brings to the decision of this troubling question both

extensive historical fact and a wealth of legal scholarship. While the

opinion thus commands my respect, I find myself nonetheless in fundamental

disagreement with those parts of it that invalidate the Texas statute in

question, and therefore dissent.

The Court's opinion decides that a State may impose virtually no

restriction on the performance of abortions during the first trimester of

pregnancy. Our previous decisions indicate that a necessary predicate for

such an opinion is a plaintiff who was in her first trimester of pregnancy

at some time during the pendency of her lawsuit. While a party may

vindicate his own constitutional rights, he may not seek vindication for

the rights of others. Moose Lodge v. Irvis, 407 U. S. 163 (1972); Sierra

Club v. Morton, 405 U. S. 727 (1972). The Court's statement of facts in

this case makes clear, however, that the record in no way indicates the

presence of such a plaintiff. We know only that plaintiff Roe at the time

of filing her complaint was a pregnant woman; for aught that appears in

this record, she may have been in her last trimester of pregnancy as of the

date the complaint was filed.

Nothing in the Court's opinion indicates that Texas might not

constitutionally apply its proscription of abortion as written to a woman

in that stage of pregnancy. Nonetheless, the Court uses her complaint

against the Texas statute as a fulcrum for deciding that States may [*172]

impose virtually no restrictions on medical abortions performed during the

first trimester of pregnancy. In deciding such a hypothetical lawsuit, the

Court departs from the longstanding admonition that it should never

"formulate a rule of constitutional law broader than is required by the

precise facts to which it is to be applied." Liverpool, New York &

Philalelphia S. S. Co. v. Commissioners of Emigration, 113 U. S. 33, 39

(1885). See also Ashwander v. TVA, 297 U. S. 288, 345 (1936) (Brandeis, J.,



Even if there were a plaintiff in this case capable of litigating the issue

which the Court decides, I would reach a conclusion opposite to that

reached by the Court. I have difficulty in concluding, as the Court does,

that the right of "privacy" is involved in this case. Texas, by the statute

here challenged, bars the performance of a medical abortion by a licensed

physician on a plaintiff such as Roe. A transaction resulting in an

operation such as this is not "private" in the ordinary usage of that word.

Nor is the "privacy" that the Court finds here even a distant relative of

the freedom from searches and seizures protected by the Fourth Amendment to

the Constitution, which the Court has referred to as embodying a right to

privacy. Katz v. United States, 389 U. S. 347 (1967) .

If the Court means by the term "privacy" no more than that the claim of a

person to be free from unwanted state regulation of consensual transactions

may be a form of "liberty" protected by the Fourteenth Amendment, there is

no doubt that similar claims have been upheld in our earlier decisions on

the basis of that liberty. I agree with the statement of MR. JUSTICE

STEWART in his concurring opinion that the "liberty," against deprivation

of which without due process the Fourteenth [*173] Amendment protects,

embraces more than the rights found in the Bill of Rights. But that liberty

is not guaranteed absolutely against deprivation, only against deprivation

without due process of law. The test traditionally applied in the area of

social and economic legislation is whether or not a law such as that

challenged has a rational relation to a valid state objective. Williamson

v. Lee Optical Co., 348 U. S. 483, 491 (1955). The Due Process Clause of

the Fourteenth Amendment undoubtedly does place a limit, albeit a broad

one, on legislative power to enact laws such as this. If the Texas statute

were to prohibit an abortion even where the mother's life is in jeopardy, I

have little doubt that such a statute would lack a rational relation to a

valid state objective under the test stated in Williamson, supra. But the

Court's sweeping invalidation of any restrictions on abortion during the

first trimester is impossible to justify under that standard, and the

conscious weighing of competing factors that the Court's opinion apparently

substitutes for the established test is far more appropriate to a

legislative judgment than to a judicial one.

The Court eschews the history of the Fourteenth Amendment in its reliance

on the "compelling state interest" test. See Weber v. Aetna Casualty &

Surety Co., 406 U. S. 164, 179 (1972) (dissenting opinion). But the Court

adds a new wrinkle to this test by transposing it from the legal

considerations associated with the Equal Protection Clause of the

Fourteenth Amendment to this case arising under the Due Process Clause of

the Fourteenth Amendment. Unless I misapprehend the consequences of this

transplanting of the "compelling state interest test," the Court's opinion

will accomplish the seemingly impossible feat of leaving this area of the

law more confused than it found it. [*174]

While the Court's opinion quotes from the dissent of Mr. Justice Holmes in

Lochner v. New York, 198 U. S. 45, 74 (1905), the result it reaches is more

closely attuned to the majority opinion of Mr. Justice Peckham in that

case. As in Lochner and similar cases applying substantive due process

standards to economic and social welfare legislation, the adoption of the

compelling state interest standard will inevitably require this Court to

examine the legislative policies and pass on the wisdom of these policies

in the very process of deciding whether a particular state interest put

forward may or may not be "compelling." The decision here to break

pregnancy into three distinct terms and to outline the permissible

restrictions the State may impose in each one, for example, partakes more

of judicial legislation than it does of a determination of the intent of

the drafters of the Fourteenth Amendment.

The fact that a majority of the States reflecting, after all, the majority

sentiment in those States, have had restrictions on abortions for at least

a century is a strong indication, it seems to me, that the asserted right

to an abortion is not "so rooted in the traditions and conscience of our

people as to be ranked as fundamental," Snyder v. Massachusetts, 291 U. S.

97, 105 (1934). Even today, when society's views on abortion are changing,

the very existence of the debate is evidence that the "right" to an

abortion is not so universally accepted as the appellant would have us


To reach its result the Court necessarily has had to find within the scope

of the Fourteenth Amendment a right that was apparently completely unknown

to the drafters of the Amendment. As early as 1821, the first state law

dealing directly with abortion was enacted by the Connecticut Legislature.

Conn. Stat., Tit. 22, §§ 14, 16. By the time of the adoption of

the Fourteenth [*175] Amendment in 1868, there were at least 36 laws

enacted by state or territorial legislatures limiting abortion.(1) While

many States have amended or updated [*176] their laws, 21 of the laws on

the books in 1868 remain in effect today.(2) Indeed, the Texas statute

struck down today was, as the majority notes, first enacted in 1857 [*177]

and "has remained substantially unchanged to the present time." Ante, at


There apparently was no question concerning the validity of this provision

or of any of the other state statutes when the Fourteenth Amendment was

adopted. The only conclusion possible from this history is that the

drafters did not intend to have the Fourteenth Amendment withdraw from the

States the power to legislate with respect to this matter.


Even if one were to agree that the case that the Court decides were here,

and that the enunciation of the substantive constitutional law in the

Court's opinion were proper, the actual disposition of the case by the

Court is still difficult to justify. The Texas statute is struck down in

toto, even though the Court apparently concedes that at later periods of

pregnancy Texas might impose these selfsame statutory limitations on

abortion. My understanding of past practice is that a statute found [*178]

to be invalid as applied to a particular plaintiff, but not

unconstitutional as a whole, is not simply "struck down" but is, instead,

declared unconstitutional as applied to the fact situation before the

Court. Yick Wo v. Hopkins, 118 U. S.356 (1886); Street v. New York, 394

U.S.576 (l969).

For all of the foregoing reasons, I respectfully dissent.

[Case overview (Syllabus)]


1 Jurisdictions having enacted abortion laws prior to the adoption of the

Fourteenth Amendment in 1868:

1. Alabama--Ala. Acts, c. 6, § 2 (1840).

2. Arizona--Howell Code, c. 10, § 45 (1865).

3. Arkansas--Ark. Rev. Stat., c. 44, div. III, Art. II, § 6 (1838).

4. California--Cal. Sess. Laws, c. 99, § 45, p. 233 (1849-1850).

5. Colorado (Terr.)--Colo. Gen. Laws of Terr. of Colo., 1st Sess., §

42, pp. 296-297 (1861).

6. Connecticut--Conn. Stat., Tit. 20, §§ 14, 16 (1821). By 1868,

this statute had been replaced by another abortion law. Conn. Pub. Acts, c.

71, §§ 1, 2, p. 65 (1860).

7. Florida--Fla. Acts 1st Sess., c. 1637, subc. 3, §§ 10, 11,

subc. 8, §§ 9, 10, 11 (1868), as amended, now Fla. Stat. Ann.

§§ 782.09, 782.10, 797.01, 797.02, 782.16 (1965).

8. Georgia--Ga. Pen. Code, 4th Div., § 20 (1833).

9. Kingdom of Hawaii--Hawaii Pen. Code, c. 12, §§ 1, 2, 3 (1850).

10. Idaho (Terr.)--Idaho (Terr.) Laws, Crimes and Punishments §§

33, 34, 42, pp. 441, 443 (1863).

11. Illinois--Ill. Rev. Criminal Code §§ 40, 41, 46, pp. 130, 131

(1827). By 1868, this statute had been replaced by a subsequent enactment.

Ill. Pub. Laws §§ 1, 2, 3, p. 89 (1867).

12. Indiana--Ind. Rev. Stat. §§ 1, 3, p. 224 (1838). By 1868 this

statute had been superseded by a subsequent enactment. Ind. Laws, c. LXXXI,

§ 2 (1859).

13. Iowa (Terr.)--Iowa (Terr.) Stat., 1st Legis., 1st Sess., § 18, p.

145 (1838). By 1868, this statute had been superseded by a subsequent

enactment. Iowa (Terr.) Rev. Stat., c. 49, §§ 10, 13 (1843).

14. Kansas (Terr.)--Kan. (Terr.) Stat., c. 48, §§ 9, 10, 39

(1855). By 1868, this statute had been superseded by a subsequent

enactment. Kan. (Terr.) Laws, c. 28, §§ 9, 10, 37 (1859).

15. Louisiana--La. Rev. Stat., Crimes and Offenses § 24, p. 138


16. Maine--Me. Rev. Stat., c. 160, §§ 11, 12, 13, 14 (1840).

17. Maryland--Md. Laws, c. 179, § 2, p. 315 (1868).

18. Massachusetts--Mass. Acts & Resolves, c. 27 (1845).

19. Michigan--Mich. Rev. Stat., c. 153, §§ 32, 33, 34, p. 662


20. Minnesota (Terr.)--Minn. (Terr.) Rev. Stat., c. 100, §§ 10,

11, p. 493 (1851).

21. Mississippi--Miss. Code, c. 64, §§ 8, 9, p. 958 (1848).

22. Missouri--Mo. Rev. Stat., Art. II, §§ 9, 10, 36, pp. 168, 172


23. Montana (Terr.)--Mont. (Terr.) Laws, Criminal Practice Acts § 41,

p. 184 (1864).

24. Nevada (Terr.)--Nev. (Terr.) Laws, c. 28, § 42, p. 63 (1861).

25. New Hampshire--N. H. Laws, c. 743, § 1, p. 708 (1848).

26. New Jersey--N. J. Laws, p. 266 (1849).

27. New York--N. Y. Rev. Stat., pt. 4, c. 1, Tit. 2, §§ 8, 9, pp.

12-13 (1828). By 1868, this statute had been superseded. N. Y. Laws, c.

260, §§ 1-6, pp. 285-286 (1845); N. Y. Laws, c. 22, § 1, p.

19 (1846).

28. Ohio--Ohio Gen. Stat. §§ 111(1), 112(2), p. 252 (1841).

29. Oregon--Ore. Gen. Laws, Crim. Code, c. 43, § 509, p. 528


30. Pennsylvania--Pa. Laws No. 374, §§ 87, 88, 89 (1860).

31. Texas--Tex. Gen. Stat. Dig., c. VII, Arts. 531-536, p. 524 (Oldham &

White 1859).

32. Vermont--Vt. Acts No. 33, § 1 (1846). By 1868, this statute had

been amended. Vt. Acts No. 57, §§ 1, 3 (1867).

33. Virginia--Va. Acts, Tit. II, c. 3, § 9, p. 96 (1848).

34. Washington (Terr.)--Wash. (Terr.) Stats., c. II, §§ 37, 38,

p. 81 (1854).

35. West Virginia--See Va. Acts., Tit. II, c. 3, § 9, p. 96 (1848); W.

Va. Const., Art. XI, par. 8 (1863).

36. Wisconsin--Wis. Rev. Stat., c. 133, §§ 10, 11 (1849). By

1868, this statute had been superseded. Wis. Rev. Stat., c. 164,

§§ 10, 11; c. 169, §§ 58, 59 (1858).

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2 Abortion laws in effect in 1868 and still applicable as of August 1970:

1. Arizona (1865).

2. Connecticut (1860).

3. Florida (1868).

4. Idaho (1863).

5. Indiana (1838).

6. Iowa (1843).

7. Maine (1840).

8. Massachusetts (1845).

9. Michigan (1846).

10. Minnesota (1851).

11. Missoun (1835).

12. Montana (1864).

13. Nevada (1861).

14. New Hampshire (1848).

15. New Jersey (1849).

16. Ohio (1841).

17. Pennsylvania (1860).

18. Texas (1859).

19. Vermont (1867).

20. West Virginia (1863).

21. Wisconsin (1858).

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