1971 January 12

First Abortion Case Is Argued Before U.S. Supreme Court


The Supreme Court on this day heard the first abortion rights case to be argued before the court. The case of Dr. Milan Vuitch centered on whether an anti-abortion law in the District of Columbia was unconstitutionally vague. A 1969 District Court decision by Judge Gerhard Gesell was the first to declare a criminal abortion statute unconstitutional. The Supreme Court, however, in United States v. Vuitch, held that the D.C. statute criminalizing abortion was not unconstitutionally vague. Justice Hugo Black, writing for the majority, however, shifted the burden in such cases to the prosecution to prove that an abortion was not necessary for the  psychological or physical health of the woman, and that the health exception to the law was acceptable under current standards of law and medicine.

The case was regarded as an early partial victory for abortion rights. The Supreme Court established a constitutional right to abortion on January 22, 1973 in the landmark case of Roe v. Wade.

Read about the history of reproductive rights: David Garrow, Liberty and Sexuality: The Right to Privacy and the Making of Roe v. Wade (1994)

A timeline of the history of abortion in America: http://www.prochoice.org/about_abortion/history_abortion.html

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