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The US in the Era of 1970s: Roe v. Wade Case


The era of 1970s saw many historical events take in the United States of America. According to Quigley (2014), in this era, saw some phenomena that happen for the first time in the country. This was the year that a sitting United States president was forced to resign from office due to a scandal. Dominant ideologies that challenged the status quo also emerged in this era. In this paper, the researcher will analyze major personalities, events, political positions, laws and regulations, and ideologies that emerged in this era. A particular focus will be given to a Supreme Court’s decision in the case of Roe v. Wade of 1973 and how it is affecting American society today.

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Major Personalities during the Era

The era of the 1970s can be defined by significant personalities who did unique things that transformed American society. In 1971, President Richard Nixon, a new monetary policy that many people described as Nixon Shock. Jane Roe became a national figure in 1973 when she went to court challenging the state laws that illegalized abortion unless on medical grounds. Her victory made her heroin to a section of the society while others saw as a villain. The case also saw the district attorney of Dallas, Henry Wade, gain national fame as he tried to defend laws prohibiting abortion at will.

In 1975, Bill Gates rose to prominence when he found Microsoft. Two years later, in 1977, Elvis Presley- then known as the king of rock- died mysteriously at his Graceland home. President came to power in the same year after defeating the incumbent, President Ford. Harvey Milk- the first American politician to openly state that he was gay- was assassinated on November 27, 1978, in San Francisco.

Major Events That Occurred during the Era

Many major events occurred in this era that is worth noting. The Environmental Protection Agency that has become very important in this country was created in 1970. The same year saw the creation of PBS (Public Broadcasting System) to replace NET (National Education Television (Quigley, 2014). A year later, the government banned the advertisement of cigarettes on television and radio stations. The historic 26th Amendment ratification that would reduce the voting age from 21 to 18 years happened in 1971. In the following year, the United States government signed an Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with the United Soviet Socialist Republic as part of the disarmament program.

The 1974 Super Outbreak catastrophe that involved the most massive tornados in modern history hit the United States, killing over 300 people and injuring thousands of others. Another major accident occurred in 1979 at the Three Miles Island nuclear power plant. In the same year, the deadliest aviation accident in the United States occurred after American Airline crashed, killing 273 people.

Significant Political Positions of the Era

The era of the 1970s saw a dramatic turn of events in the United States that had never been witnessed before. The Watergate scandal forced then-Vice President Spiro Agnew to resign in 1974, disgracefully following a series of court battles. For the first time in American history, Gerald Ford was appointed vice president under 25th Amendment. The scandal did not end with the resignation of the vice president because the president was also vastly mentioned. In the same year, President Nixon became the first president to resign from office. Vice President Ford became the first person to be the United States president and vice president without being elected to the two offices. He also made history by becoming the shortest-serving president of the country other than those who died in office. Jimmy Carter won presidential elections in 1976 and was inaugurated in 1977. The assassination of Harvey Milk, a renowned gay politician, in 1978, was seen as an attempt to fight gay practices among politicians who were seen as role models in society.

Major Laws, Regulations, and Supreme Court Decisions of the Era

According to Chafe, Sitkoff, & Bailey, (2003), besides the political intrigues in the era of the 1970s, some of the significant changes in laws, regulations, and landmark Supreme Court decisions changed the socio-economic and political landscape of the United States of America. The society was undergoing radical changes in various sectors, especially the political and social spheres, and it was necessary to make laws that would reflect the true image of the United States based on the interests of the public. The courts were also under pressure to interpret these laws to ensure that they did not infringe on human rights. In this paper, the researcher will focus on a historic Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade case.

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In 1973, Jane Roe went to court challenging Texas abortion laws, which she felt were in contradiction to the rights and freedoms of Americans as defined in the constitution. She was pregnant, and she thought that it is unconstitutional for the state laws to deny her the choice of making personal decisions to carry the pregnancy to term or terminate it. As at that the time she went to court, the law stated that procuring an abortion was illegal unless it was determined that the pregnancy might hurt the mother. It meant that she was legally bound to carry her child to term unless it was confirmed by a medical doctor that the pregnancy put her life in danger. After going through the lower courts, it finally reached the United States’ Supreme Court.

Chief Justice Warren Burger constituted a bench of 9 Supreme Court judges to listen and give a ruling over the case. He, the chief justice, presided over the matter. Monteyne (2011) says that this was one of the most sensitive cases in the United States because of the issue of abortion. For a long time, this issue had remained controversial in this country with a section of the society supporting it while another section opposed to it. It was difficult to determine the number of Americans who were in support of abortion and those who were against it because a national referendum had never been done to cover this issue. Monteyne (2011) says that existing researches that purported to have carried investigation were unreliable because they contradicted themselves. They were conducted by people with vested interests who wanted the public to believe in one ideology against the other. This was the first time in the country when a decision had to be made on whether abortion infringed on people’s rights or not. The sensitivity of the issue made it necessary for the Supreme Court to give the case special attention.

On January 22, 1973, the court issued its ruling that came as a shock to many people in the United States. After lengthy court battles between the plaintiff and the defendant’s lawyers, the judges had to make a decision by voting. The result was a 7-to-2 vote in favor of the plaintiff. Jane Roe won the case by a wide margin of seven judges against two who had a dissenting opinion. History was made on that day that has remained controversial in the United States till today. The courts ruled that under the Constitution of the United States, abortion should be considered a fundamental human right. This decision meant that all laws that restrict or completely prohibit abortion on demand had to be reevaluated based on the ruling.

According to Hitchcock (2007), the case was of interest to many Americans at that time because of the controversy about the issue of abortion. When it was first taken to the lower courts, many people were not aware of it, and therefore, it did not draw any serious public attention. However, things changed when the case was taken to the Supreme Court. As Monteyne (2011) says, the decision made by the Supreme Court forms a powerful precedent that will inform all future decisions of any other court in the country. The American society, therefore, knew that a new law was to be introduced in the United States based on the judgment that was to be made by the court. It is important to note that even though Jane Roe won the case, her real intention of going to court was defeated. She wanted to terminate her pregnancy in case she won the court battle. However, at the time the court made a ruling in her favor, she had already given birth, something that she wanted to avoid.

Ideologies Expressed During the Era

In the era of 1970s, there were a few strong ideologies that emerged. According to Balkin (2007), pro-life and pro-choice were two of the most popular ideologies that appeared in American society. The two ideologies were directly related to the Supreme Court’s ruling on Roe v. Wade case. The pro-life crusaders argued that life begins at conception. Once a person conceives, the child in her womb has all the rights that should be granted to any American citizen. The majority of those who believed in the pro-life ideology were religious leaders, especially the Roman Catholics, who were strongly opposed to the legalization of abortion. To them, abortion can only be procured when the life of the mother is threatened by the pregnancy. They argued that abortion is against God’s teachings and that it takes away the right to life of the developing child.

The opposing ideology was championed by people who identified themselves as pro-choice. They argued that life begins at birth, not at conception. For this reason, the choice of carrying a child to term should be left in the hands of the mothers. The pro-life crusaders argued that rape cases were rampant in the country. Many women became pregnant after such torturous ordeals. Forcing such a woman to carry the child to term and care for it is a direct violation of fundamental human rights. The child will be a constant reminder to the mother about the incident that she would otherwise want to forget. They also argue that there are cases where underage girls become pregnant without their knowledge. The social-economic status of such girls may not allow them to have children of their own. In fact, having children at a tender age may redefine their lives for the worst. It is, therefore, a punishment to force a woman to carry a pregnancy to term.

Another popular ideology in this era arose from the Watergate Scandal that emerged in 1972. There was a public clamor for responsible leadership among the public officials. The presidency does not give anyone express authority to disregard the law. Although the ideology lasted for a few years, it has had a lasting impact on the country’s politics.

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How this Decade in Contemporary America Affect US Today

The events of this decade in contemporary America are still affecting the United States today. The issue of abortion is still as controversial today as it was in the 1970s. According to Chafe, Sitkoff, & Bailey, (2003), a section of the society has been demanding that the court’s decision be overturned. Some Americans voted in the current US President Barrack Obama, hoping that he would spearhead reversing this ruling forty years after it was made. In fact, Jane Roe herself has changed her position on this case and is now supporting the pro-life. She converted into a Roman Catholic and now spearheads campaigns against abortion in the United States. Almost all the churches in the country are advocating against abortion, arguing that the Supreme Court erred when they ruled in favor of pro-choice. Some of the judges who ruled in favor of Roe have since changed their positions and are now campaigning to see the ruling reversed.

Another section still strongly believes that abortion should be legalized, especially in modern society, where people are more liberal than they ever were before. They think that in modern society, a woman should be granted the right to choose whether or not she is willing to carry a pregnancy to term. They argue that there is a little difference between those who procure an abortion and those who use contraceptives as long as abortion is procured at the right time.

Microsoft Corporation, a company that was founded in this era, has become a driving force in the computing world. Its founder, Bill Gates, is currently the world’s richest person. The American Airline crash that killed several people led to a series of policies and researches that have made air travel today safer than it was in the past. The politicians in modern American society, especially the presidents, now know that the public is keen on their actions and are ready to hold them responsible for every step they take. This has promoted transparency in leadership and accountable government.


The era of 1970s defined a very important path that the United States is still following today. The Watergate Scandal has made American political leaders understand that they are expected to govern with integrity, always observing the rule of law. The much-publicized Roe v. Wade case remains a controversy that American society still has to deal with. Most of the significant players who participated in the case actively are now against the ruling that was made. However, many others are strongly in support of this ruling that empowered pregnant women the power to decide whether or not to carry a pregnancy to term.


Balkin, J. M. (2007). What Roe v. Wade should have said: The nation’s top legal experts rewrite American’s most controversial decision. New York: New York University Press.

Chafe, W. H., Sitkoff, H., & Bailey, B. L. (2003). A history of our time: Readings on postwar America. New York: Oxford University Press.

Hitchcock, S. T. (2007). Roe v. wade: Protecting a woman’s right to choose. New York: Chelsea House.

Monteyne, D. (2011). Fallout shelter: Designing for civil defense in the Cold War. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

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Quigley, C. (2014). Tragedy and hope: A history of the world in our time. Cheyenne: Dauphin Publications Inc.

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