US & Canada

Roe v Wade abortion ruling turns 40 amid demonstrations

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Media captionInside Mississippi's last abortion clinic

Activists on either side of the US abortion debate are marking the 40th anniversary of a landmark Supreme Court ruling establishing abortion rights.

The 1973 Roe v Wade case, which granted women's right to abortion, remains deeply controversial in the US.

Anti-abortion activists rallied in Tuesday in Kansas, which has recently limited access to abortion.

A new poll suggests that for the first time, most Americans believe abortion should be legal in most or all cases.

Fifty-four per cent of adults say abortion should be legal either always or most of the time, according to the NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey.

Seven out of 10 respondents oppose overturning Roe v Wade, the survey said.

The National Organization for Women, which supports abortion rights, planned a candlelight vigil in front of the Supreme Court on Wednesday, and other pro-choice groups held a protest at the Virginia state capitol in Richmond.

'All about life'

Meanwhile, anti-abortion activists demonstrated at the state capital in Kansas, a hotbed of anti-abortion politics.

Republican Kansas Governor Sam Brownback has passed measures over the last two years to restrict access to abortions.

"Life is what it's all about," Mr Brownback told protesters at a rally in Topeka, the Topeka Capital-Journal newspaper reported.

"That's why we need you to continue to push and to march and to pray and to work in pro-life centres. We're not going to stop fighting until we get life for everybody."

Mr Brownback is expected to support any further curbs on abortion approved by lawmakers in the state's legislature, which is dominated by his party.

President Barack Obama, meanwhile, said the Roe v Wade anniversary was an opportunity to "recommit" to supporting abortion rights.

"We reaffirm [the decision's] historic commitment to protect the health and reproductive freedom of women across this country and stand by its guiding principle: that government should not intrude on our most private family matters, and women should be able to make their own choices about their bodies and their healthcare," he said in a statement released by the White House.

The Supreme Court's decision on Roe v Wade established that the US Constitution's right to privacy applied to abortion.

The case was named for "Jane Roe", a pseudonym for Norma McCorvey, and Henry Wade, who was then attorney general for Dallas, Texas.

Restrictions allowed

McCorvey was a single mother, pregnant for the third time, who wanted to terminate her pregnancy.

She sued over a Texas law that banned abortion except in cases of rape, incest or danger to the mother's life.

A doctor, James Hallford, filed a complaint alongside Jane Roe, arguing that the law's provisions were unclear, making it hard to tell whether a patient was eligible for an abortion under the terms of the law.

The case ended up in the Supreme Court, which ruled seven to two to overturn the Texas law. The justices' decision favoured Jane Roe, but was partially against the doctor.

In a separate decision on the same day, the Supreme Court gave states the right to restrict abortion access for later-term pregnancies.

In other cases since then, the Supreme Court has given states broad leeway to restrict abortion, including mandating waiting periods and tightly regulating how abortion providers practice.

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