Abortion refers to the process of expelling the fetus or embryo from the woman’s body. It can be induced or spontaneous. The law is generally concerned with induced abortions, i.e. abortions that are intentional.
During the colonial days, the English law allowed abortions prior to quickening of the fetus, i.e. before the mother could feel the fetus’s movements in the uterus. Generally a fetus quickens between the 16th and 18th week of the pregnancy.
After the declaration of independence, there were no laws on abortion until the 1800s. During those days women did not have the right to vote and could not become doctors. The American Medical Association (in those days, women could not become members) along with religious leaders strongly argued for a ban on abortion. In those days, abortion technology was medieval and rather unsafe. Even if the abortion was successful, the woman was generally left sterile. By the 1880s states across the United States had laws banning abortion. It was a criminal offense then and remained so until the 1960s.
During the 1960s and 70s women’s groups together with doctors and attorneys started a movement for a change in the abortion laws. They claimed that the law banning abortion basically treats women less equal then men because it prevents them from have adequate control over their reproductive lives. The population explosion after the Second World War brought to forefront the need to limit the size of one’s family. In many countries across the world abortion was legal and being safely carried out by doctors but they were still illegal in the United States. The 1960s also saw an increase in babies born with birth defects mainly due to the outbreak of German measles and the use of thalidomide, an anti-nausea drug. This increased the attention on the rights of a woman to stop the birth of a child with serious birth defects.
The National Organizations for Women and other such organizations campaigned for abortion rights and even filed lawsuits. Eventually states began to reform their abortion laws but the organizations wanted unfettered access to abortion. This led to counter campaigns from the anti-abortion groups. Ultimately the matter reached the Supreme Court which passed its landmark judgment on abortion rights in the 1973 case of Roe v. Wade.