Abortion signs
Abortion rights supporters' and anti-abortion activists' signs are seen during a rally in Washington, D.C. Reuters

In a 7-2 landmark decision on one of the nation's most debated issues, the United States Supreme Court declared on Jan. 22, 1973, a woman’s right to have an abortion under the due process clause of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution in Roe v. Wade. The ruling helped change the nation and improved women's access to health care. Below are noteworthy facts and quotes about the historic ruling that struck down laws prohibiting abortion.

The court’s ruling affected laws in 46 states, according to CNN. The lead plaintiff in the case was known as Jane Roe, but her real name was Norma McCorvey, a Texas resident who sought to have an abortion, according to Vanity Fair. McCorvey was 21 years old and pregnant when she filed the lawsuit in 1971. She never had an abortion but instead gave the baby for adoption, according to the New York Times. In 1997, McCorvey switched sides on the abortion debate and started Roe No More, an anti-abortion outreach organization. The defendant in the case was Henry Wade, the district attorney of Dallas County from 1951 to 1987. McCorvey sued Wade because he enforced a Texas law that criminalized abortions, except when saving a woman’s life. Wade died on March 1, 2001, the New York Times reported.

Quotes on Roe v. Wade:

  • “We are not here to advocate abortion. We do not ask this Court to rule that abortion is good or desirable in any particular situation. We are here to advocate that the decision as to whether or not a particular woman will continue to carry or will terminate a pregnancy is a decision that should be made by that individual. That, in fact, she has a constitutional right to make that decision for herself and that the state has shown no interest in interfering with that decision,” lead prosecuting attorney Sarah Weddington told justices during her court argument in 1972.
  • "There are times when an abortion is necessary. I know that. When you have a black and a white," former U.S. President Richard Nixon said on controversial Oval Office tapes, in reaction to the 1973 Roe v. Wade verdict.
  • "I obviously advocated legalized abortion for many years following Roe v. Wade. But, working in the abortion clinics forced me to accept what abortion really is: It is a violent act which kills human beings and destroys the peace and the real interests of the mothers involved," McCorvey stated in an affidavit to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas on June 11, 2003.
  • "Even as a supporter of Roe v. Wade, I am compelled to acknowledge that the language both sides use on this subject can be unfortunately misleading and unconstructive.... Everyone is worse off for it,” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Sept. 19, 2006, at Pepperdine University, calling for a new commitment to reduce abortions.
  • "The fingers and toes and beating hearts that we can see on an unborn child's ultrasound come with something that we cannot see: a soul," former U.S. President George W. Bush said Jan. 23, 2008, as thousands of people met on Capitol Hill in an anti-abortion rally.