Abortion Timeline: A Chronology of Endangered Unborn Life
ca. 2000 B.C. Hittites (The Hittite Laws ss.17)
“If anyone caused a free woman to miscarry if (it is) the 10th month, he shall give 10 shekels of silver, if (it is) the 5th, he shall give 5 shekels and pledge his estate as security.” Later Version: “If anyone causes a free woman to miscarry, he shall give 20 shekels of silver.”
ca. 1792 B.C. – 1750 B.C. Hammurabi, a Babylonian Ruler (Code of Hammurabi ss.209)
“If a seignior struck a (nother) seignior’s daughter and has caused her to have a miscarriage, he shall pay ten shekels of silver for her fetus…If by a blow he has caused a commoner’s daughter to have a miscarriage, he shall pay five shekels of silver.”
ca. 150 A.D. The Didache (2:2)
“You shall not slay a child by abortions.”
160 A.D. – 230 A.D. Tertullian
Called abortion “homocidium” (murder, manslaughter)
ca. 177 A.D. Athenagoras (Supplicatio 35)
Said the embryo is already a human being and the object of divine love and providence.
1483 – 1546 A.D. Martin Luther
When a child is conceived the soul is created together with the body.
1965 – June 7:
Griswold v. Connecticut – The Supreme Court rules that the U.S. Constitution protects a “right to privacy.” The case involves a Connecticut law that prohibited the use of contraceptives. By a vote of 7-2, the Supreme Court invalidates the law on the grounds that it violated the “right to marital privacy.”
1967 – April 25:
Colorado Gov. John A. Love signs the first “liberalized” ALI-model abortion law in the United States, allowing abortion in cases of permanent mental or physical disability of either the child or mother or in cases of rape or incest. Similar laws are passed in California, Oregon, and North Carolina.
1970 – April 11:
New York allows abortion on demand up to the 24th week of pregnancy, as Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller signs a bill repealing the states 1830 law that banned abortion after quickening except to save a woman’s life. Similar laws are passed in Alaska, Hawaii, and Washington state.
1971 – April 21:
The U.S. Supreme Court rules on its first case involving abortion in United States v. Vuitch, upholding a District of Columbia law that permits abortion only to preserve a woman’s life or “health.” However, the Court makes it clear that by “health” it means “psychological and physical well-being,” effectively allowing abortion for any reason.
1973 – January 22:
The U.S. Supreme Court issues its ruling in Roe v. Wade, finding that a “right of privacy” it had earlier discovered was “broad enough to encompass” a right to abortion and adopting a trimester scheme of pregnancy. In the first trimester, a state could enact virtually no regulation. In the second trimester, the state could enact some regulation, but only for the purpose of protecting maternal “health.” In the third trimester, after viability, a state could ostensibly “proscribe” abortion, provided it made exceptions to preserve the life and “health” of the woman seeking abortion. Issued on the same day, Doe v. Bolton defines “health” to mean “all factors” that affect the woman, including “physical, emotional, psychological, familial, and the woman’s age.”
1975 – February 15:
Boston abortionist Kenneth C. Edelin is found guilty of manslaughter for the death of an unborn child (see also Dec. 17, 1976).
1975 – March 10:
The first Human Life Amendment is introduced in the U.S. Senate by Sens. James L. Buckley (Cons.-NY) and Jesse Helms (R-NC).
1976 – April 28:
The U.S. Senate conducts a “test vote” on the Human Life Amendment. The amendment draws 40 votes. A two-thirds vote (67 senators) is needed to approve a constitutional amendment.
1976 – June 28:
The first Hyde Amendment, sponsored by Rep. Henry Hyde (R-IL), is approved by the U.S. House. The amendment to the Department of Health and Human Services appropriations bill prohibits Medicaid funding of abortions with narrow exceptions.
1976 – July 1:
In Planned Parenthood of Central Missouri v. Danforth, the U.S. Supreme Court strikes down a Missouri law that banned the use of saline amniocentesis as an abortion method and that obliged a married woman seeking an abortion to obtain her husband’s consent. The Court also holds that states could require a minor to obtain consent of one parent before obtaining an abortion, but the law must contain a “judicial bypass” option for minors who do not wish to obtain parental consent.
1976 – December 17:
The manslaughter conviction of abortionist Edelin is overturned by the Massachusetts Superior Judicial Court which rules that legal abortions are manslaughter only if the baby is definitely alive outside the mother’s body.
1977 – June 20:
In Maher v. Roe, Beal v. Doe, and Poelker v. Doe, the U.S. Supreme Court holds that federal and state governments are under no obligation to fund abortion in public assistance programs, even if childbirth expenses are paid for indigent women and even if the abortion is deemed to be “medically necessary.”
1980 – June 30:
In Harris v. McRae, the U.S. Supreme Court upholds the Hyde Amendment, ruling that there is no constitutional right for women to receive abortions at public expense.
1981 – March 23:
In H.L. v. Matheson, the U.S. Supreme Court approves a Utah parental notification law. The law requires an abortionist to notify the parents of a minor girl who is still living at home as her parent’s dependent when an abortion is scheduled.
1982 – April:
French researcher Dr. Etienne-Emile Beaulieu of Roussel Uclaf announces that a test was conducted using the abortifacient RU 486 to abort 11 babies.
1983 – June 15:
In Akron v. Akron Center for Reproductive Health, the U.S. Supreme Court strikes down state requirements that abortions performed after the first trimester be done in a hospital, women’s right to know laws, and waiting periods after information is provided to the woman seeking abortion before she can consent to an abortion. However, the Court rules that states may insist that only licensed physicians perform abortions.
1983 – November 10:
The U.S. Congress approves the Ashbrook Amendment barring the use of federal employees’ health benefits program to pay for abortions, except for the life of the mother.
1984 – June 17:
The Reagan Administration announces the “Mexico City Policy,” denying funds to foreign organizations that “perform or actively promote abortion as a method of family planning in other nations.”
1985 – July 10:
U.S. House reaffirms the Mexico City Policy by a 45-vote margin. The Kemp-Kasten Amendment is also enacted, denying U.S. population-assistance funds to “any organization or program which, as determined by the President, supports or participates in the management of a program of coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization.”
1986 – June 11:
In Thornburgh v. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the U.S. Supreme Court strikes down state laws mandating that an abortionist use the method most likely to allow the child to be born alive in post-viability abortions. It also strikes down women’s right to know laws and a waiting period after information is provided to the woman seeking abortion before she can consent to an abortion.
1987 – July 30:
President Reagan announces at a meeting of pro-life activists that “a program which does provide counseling and referral for abortion services as a method of family planning will not be eligible for Title 10 funds.”
1987 – August 25:
President Reagan appoints a federal task force to encourage adoption as an alternative to abortion.
1987 – October 23:
Nomination of pro-life Judge Robert Bork to the U.S. Supreme Court is rejected by the U.S. Senate, 58-42. Pro-abortion groups conduct a fierce campaign, which results in his defeat. This seat ultimately goes to Anthony Kennedy, who votes to reaffirm the core holdings of Roe in 1992.
1988 – March:
The Reagan Administration issues a moratorium on new federally-funded fetal tissue transplant research.
1988 – September 23:
The French government approves licensing of RU 486 for use in the country.
1988 – September 26:
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issues an “Import Bulletin” banning the importation of RU 486 for personal use.
1988 – September 30:
The U.S. Senate passes an amendment to the District of Columbia appropriations bill to bar D.C. from paying for abortions or performing abortions in its city-operated hospital. Since the U.S. House had already passed the amendment, it goes into effect immediately.
1988 – October 29:
The French government orders Roussel Uclaf to reverse its October 27 decision to halt distribution of RU 486.
1989 – July 3:
In Webster v. Reproductive Health Services, the U.S. Supreme Court, upholding portions of a Missouri law, finds that the federal Constitution does not require the government to make public facilities such as hospitals available for use in performing abortions.
1989 – November 17:
The so-called “Freedom of Choice Act” is introduced for the first time in the U.S. House by Rep. Don Edwards (D-CA) and in the U.S. Senate by Sen. Alan Cranston (D-CA).
1989 – November 22:
President Bush vetoes a foreign aid appropriations bill because it contains the Mikulski Amendment, which would have restored funding to the UNFPA, an organization that played a key role in China’s coercive population-control program. This program violates the 1985 Kemp-Kasten Amendment, which denied U.S. “population assistance” to any organization that “supports or participates in the management of a program of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.”
1990 – June 25:
In Ohio v. Akron Center for Reproductive Health, the U.S. Supreme Court upholds a one-parent notification requirement with a judicial bypass procedure. The Court also rules, in Hodgson v. Minnesota, that a two-parent notification law with a judicial bypass is constitutional.
1990 – June 26:
In a letter to key U.S. House leaders, President Bush restates his commitment to both the Kemp/Kasten Amendment and the “Mexico City” policy, which cut off U.S. aid to organizations that promote the legalization and utilization of abortion in foreign nations.
1991 – January 25:
The French Council of State rules that the government did not have the authority to force Roussel Uclaf to resume distribution of RU 486. The decision removes Roussel’s excuse that it had no choice but to continue distributing the drug.
1991 – May 23:
In Rust v. Sullivan, the U.S. Supreme Court upholds the Bush Administration’s regulations that prohibit routine counseling and referral for abortion in 4,000 clinics that receive federal Title X family planning funds.
1991 – October 25:
Ana Rosa Rodriguez survives a third-trimester abortion attempt by New York City abortionist Abu Hayat, but is born with one arm severed at the shoulder (see also February 22, 1993).
1991 – November:
Threat of Bush veto maintains the Reagan-era ban on the performance of abortion on U.S. military bases, except to save the mother’s life.
1992 – June 29:
In Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the U.S. Supreme Court reaffirms the core holdings of Roe but modifies it by discarding the trimester scheme, upholding certain restrictions on abortion, and adopting the “undue burden” test of abortion laws that requires opponents of an abortion regulation to prove the provision would create an “undue burden” on a woman’s right to abortion in order for it to be declared unconstitutional. The vote is 6-3.
1992 – September 13:
A gruesome abortion technique is described by abortionist Martin Haskell at a National Abortion Foundation seminar. The technique, later called “partial-birth abortion” by Congress, involves the abortionist delivering all but the head of a baby from her mother’s womb, piercing the skull, and suctioning out the brain, then completing the delivery.
1993 – January 22:
President Clinton reverses years of pro-life progress by issuing five executive orders reversing Title X regulations banning abortion referrals by federal employees, repealing the Mexico City Policy restricting federal funding of international organizations that work to reverse countries’ abortion laws, negating the ban on funding for fetal tissue transplants, ordering military hospitals to perform abortions, and asking the FDA to “review” the import ban on RU 486.
1993 – February 22:
Abortionist Abu Hayat is convicted of assault and illegal abortion for his attempt to kill Ana Rosa Rodriguez by abortion.
1993 – November 22:
The Clinton Administration announces that the International Planned Parenthood Federation will receive $75 million over the next five years.
1993 – December 28:
The Clinton Administration faxes a letter to each state’s Medicaid director ordering the states to change their laws and provide payments for abortions when an abortionist reports that a pregnancy resulted from rape or incest.
1994 – January:
The American Council of Obstetricians and Gynecologists’ Executive Board becomes the first national doctors’ organization to endorse training non-physicians to perform abortions.
1994 – May 15:
Roussel Uclaf donates U.S. patent rights for RU 486 to the Population Council.
1994 – June 30:
In Madsen v. Women’s Center Inc., the U.S. Supreme Court says judges may create buffer zones to keep pro-life demonstrators away from abortion clinics.
1994 – October 27:
The Population Council announces that testing of RU 486 is underway in the United States.
1995 – June 14:
Rep. Charles Canady (R-FL) introduces the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act in the U.S. House of Representatives.
1995 – August 10:
Norma McCorvey, the “Jane Roe” of Roe v. Wade, tells a nationwide audience on Nightline that she rejects abortion and the pro-abortion movement and now supports the right to life of unborn children. She had already revealed that this pregnancy was not the product of a rape — as she had previously contended — showing that Roe was built on a lie.
1995 – November 1:
The U.S. House passes the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, the first federal bill since Roe v. Wade to ban one type of abortion. The vote was 288-139.
1995 – December 7:
The U.S. Senate passes the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, 54-44.
1996 – April 10:
President Clinton issues his first veto of the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act.
1996 – May 2:
A new federal law is enacted to protect medical training programs and personnel from being forced to participate in performing or training in the performance of abortions. President Clinton reluctantly signs the measure as part of an omnibus spending bill.
1996 – September 18:
The FDA declares RU 486 “approvable,” although it asks the Population Council to provide more information on “labeling and manufacturing practices” before the drug can be marketed.
1997 – February:
Ron Fitzsimmons, head of the National Coalition of Abortion Providers, tells journalists he “lied through my teeth” in claiming that partial-birth abortions were performed very rarely and only for extraordinary medical reasons, explaining that he had just “spouted the party line” developed by leaders of other pro-abortion groups.
1997 – April 8:
Hoechst AG announces it is ceasing all future production, marketing, and distribution of RU 486. Instead, it says it is transferring all rights to the abortifacient in the U.S. to the Population Council and worldwide to Edouard Sakiz, former Roussel Uclaf president.
1997 – June 16:
The U.S. Supreme Court upholds a Montana law that requires that abortions be performed only by physicians, not their assistants.
1997 – October 10:
President Clinton again vetoes the ban on partial-birth abortions.
1998 – February 12:
Senator Spencer Abraham (R-MI) introduces the Child Custody Protection Act into the U.S. Senate, which would make it illegal for adults to transport minors across state lines for an abortion if that action would circumvent the parental involvement law of a state.
1998 – April 30:
Results of a U.S. trial of RU 486 are published in the New England Journal of Medicine. The Population Council declares the drug “safe,” downplaying the serious complications suffered by many women.
1999 – December:
A new report from Northeastern University in Boston shows that, rather than overpopulation, the real problem is just the opposite: underpopulation. Birthrates have fallen so dramatically in the northeastern United States that, for the first time, New England is dependent on foreign immigrants to sustain its workforce.
2000 – June 28:
In Stenberg v. Carhart, the Supreme Court votes 5-4 to strike down Nebraska’s law banning the late-term abortion procedure. The justices say the law, similar to those in 29 other states, imposes an “undue burden” on women’s right to end their pregnancies, because it lacks an exemption to preserve women’s health and could have been used to ban more than one abortion method.
2001 – January 22:
Two days after taking office, President Bush signs an executive order barring U.S. aid to international groups that use their own money to support abortion — either through performing the procedure, counseling abortion as a family-planning option or lobbying foreign governments on abortion policy.
2002 – July:
FDA removes warning from second part of RU 486 abortion drug. The FDA agrees to remove that warning in April, and the new label instead states that women who are taking Cytotec to treat ulcers should not become pregnant. The change is made to reflect the fact that the drug is widely used by doctors to induce labor.
2002 – October:
A study shows that the abortion rate is dropping significantly since 1994. The overall U.S. abortion rate fell from 1994 to 2000 — from 24 abortions for every 1,000 women of childbearing age to just 21, according to the Alan Guttmacher Institute.
2003 – January:
A study examining a variety of physical and psychological consequences associated with abortion calls for physicians to inform women about a breast cancer risk known to scientists for 33 years (the delayed first term pregnancy effect) and about the existence of research examining abortion as an independent risk factor for breast cancer.
2003 – February 17:
Holly Patterson, 18, from California dies after taking RU 486. The Alameda County Coroner’s official autopsy report states her death was a result of an incomplete abortion.
2003 – August:
Bush administration expands the Mexico City Policy. The new memo makes it clear that the pro-life policy applies to federal State Department funding of all population programs — even if they are not funded through USAID.
2003 – November 5:
President George W. Bush signs the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003 into law to end the abhorrent practice of partial birth abortion.
2004 – April 1:
The Unborn Victims of Violence Act, commonly known as “Laci and Conner’s Law,” passes in Congress and is signed into law by President George W. Bush.
2004 – May 20:
The Unborn Child Pain Awareness Act is introduced in the U.S. House by Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS). A similar bill is introduced in the U.S. House by Senator Chris Smith (R-NJ). The bill seeks to ensure that women seeking an abortion are fully informed regarding the pain experienced by their unborn child.
2004 – June 2:
Federal Judge Phyllis Hamilton of California strikes down the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act. Similar decisions are expected from federal courts of Nebraska and New York.
2004 – August 2:
The Bush Administration appeals the partial-birth abortion injunction ordered by Federal Judge Phyllis Hamilton in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The case is expected to be argued in the U.S. Supreme Court.
2004 – August 26:
Federal District Judge Richard Casey in New York rules that the federal government cannot enforce the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act because the law conflicts with an earlier 5-4 Supreme Court ruling in favor of partial-birth abortion.
2004 – September 14:
A Circuit Court judge dismisses a motion brought forward by Norma McCorvey, known in legal history as “Roe” in Roe v. Wade, to overturn the landmark 1973 decision that legalized abortion in the U.S..
2004 – November 29:
The Justice Department files its brief in the appeal of Nebraska Judge Richard Kopf’s decision overturning the federal ban on partial-birth abortions. The Bush Administration asks the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit to reverse the decision of the U.S. District Judge.
2004 – December 20:
The Department of Justice appeals to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals a decision by San Francisco-based U.S. District Judge Phyllis Hamilton to strike down a federal ban on partial-birth abortion because the law does not include a health exception for mothers.
2005 – January 8:
Attorneys for the Center for Law & Religious Freedom of the Christian Legal Society file a friend of the court brief in the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis, Missouri, supporting Congress’ ban on partial-birth abortion. Center attorneys argue that the lower court in Nebraska erred in concluding that the Constitution requires the Partial-Birth Abortion Act of 2003 to contain an exception for the health of the mother. Attorneys for the Center for Law & Religious Freedom of the Christian Legal Society file a friend of the court brief in the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis, Missouri, supporting Congress’ ban on partial-birth abortion. Center attorneys argue that the lower court in Nebraska erred in concluding that the Constitution requires the Partial-Birth Abortion Act of 2003 to contain an exception for the health of the mother.
2005 – July 8:
The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals rules that the national ban on partial-birth abortions is unconstitutional, citing the ban does not contain an exception for the health of the mother.
2006 – February 21:
The United States Supreme Court announces its intentions to hear the case involving the constitutionality of the national ban on partial birth abortion known as the Partial Birth Abortion Act.
2006 – February 28:
The U.S. Supreme Court rules for the third time that extortion laws cannot be used to silence protesters who demonstrate at abortion clinics.
2006 – March 6:
South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds signs into law the first abortion law in the U.S. since Roe v. Wade. The law bans most abortions in the state, excluding those abortions necessary to save a woman’s life. Doctors who are convicted of performing abortions face a felony charge of up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.
2006 – June 17:
Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco signs into law a statewide ban on abortion. The law, fashioned after South Dakota’s, would be effected only if the U.S. Constitution is amended to allow states to ban abortion, or if the U.S. Supreme Court strikes down the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling. Doctors found guilty in performing abortions face up to ten years in prison and fines as high as $100,000.
2006 – August 24:
The FDA announces approval of Plan B, a contraceptive drug, as an over-the-counter (OTC) option for women ages 18 years and older. Plan B is often referred to as emergency contraception or the “morning after pill.”
2007 – April 18:
The U.S. Supreme Court rules 5-4 in Gonzalez v. Carhart to uphold the ban on partial birth abortion known as the Partial Birth Abortion Act.
2009 – January 23:
In a presidential memorandum, President Obama repealed the “Mexico City Policy” that had prevented U.S. funding for international family planning groups tp offer advice on or perform abortions.
2009 – May 10:
Gallup reveals for the first time since it began polling, more Americans called themselves “pro-life” than “pro-choice.”
2010 – March 23:
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (aka “Obamacare”) is signed into law.
2010 – April 13:
Nebraska becomes the first state to pass the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act (which took effect October 15), banning abortions after 20 weeks’ gestation on the basis of the pain abortion causes to the unborn child.
Research from the Alan Guttmacher Institute finds the number of abortions is at its lowest level since Roe v. Wade, remaining steady at about 1.2 million reported procedures in 2011, down 25% since the all-time high in 1990.
A total of 23 states enact 70 abortion restriction laws during 2013. This makes 2013 second only to 2011 in the number of new abortion restrictions enacted in a single year. More abortion restrictions are enacted between 2011 and 2013 than in the entire previous decade.
For the first time since 1974, the number of abortions performed in the U.S. drops below one million: to 926,190 for 2014, according to the report, “Abortion Incidence and Service Availability in the United States, 2014” (Perspective in Sexual and Reproductive Health, March 2017).
Alan Guttmacher Institute’s latest report shows a significant recent decline, seeing abortions fall 13 percent from 2008 to 2011. Most all of this decline appears to have occurred at clinics with annual caseloads of a thousand abortions a year or more. The number of abortions with RU-486 and other chemical abortifacients is up despite the overall reported abortion decline.
A Reuters report in November finds a 35 percent increase since 2010 in chemical abortion usage among American women. After reviewing Planned Parenthood’s 2014 reported data, the news service found chemical abortions are on the rise, making up 43 percent of the total number of abortions at the nation’s largest abortion conglomerate. That percentage is up from 35 percent in 2010, even though abortions generally are on the decline.
The Mexico City Policy is reinstated on January 23, re-enacting a ban on U.S. funding for abortion overseas. It requires that foreign nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) agree, as a condition of their receipt of U.S. federal grant money, to neither perform nor actively promote abortion as a method family planning overseas. On May 15, the Trump administration expands the Mexico City Policy to block funding for abortions outside the United States to include a broader range of international aid programs.
On April 13, President Donald Trump signs a resolution allowing states to withhold federal funding for health care providers that performed abortions.
In 2017, Planned Parenthood closes 32 locations located in 16 states.
In June, the U.S. Supreme Court strikes down California state law forcing pregnancy help centers to promote abortion (NIFLA v. Becurra). The ruling blocks enforcement of a 2015 California state law that required pro-life pregnancy centers to promote abortion by posting government-mandated abortion advertisements on their website and waiting room walls.
In January, the Reproductive Health Act, a law permitting abortion up until birth, is signed by NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo. It is termed the “most aggressive” abortion law in the U.S., eliminating all limits. In June, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker signs its Reproductive Health Act into law permitting abortion on-demand at any time, for any reason including a repeal of the state’s partial-birth abortion ban.
Total U.S. Abortions Since 1973
Click here to find out the number of U.S. legal abortions since 1973.
[Various information adapted from National Right to Life Committee’s “Abortion History” and Rev. Robert Fleischmann, Christian Life Resources]
Updated June 2020
April 15, 2018
May 3, 2018