Myth: Roe v. Wade led immediately to the availability of legal abortion throughout the nation.
Reality: While Roe eventually did lead to the legal availability of abortion in every state, this process took a couple years because of strong political opposition to Roe in numerous state legislatures. State legislatures in Virginia, Ohio, Oklahoma, Kansas, North Dakota, and Utah, along with most of the states in the South, refused to bring their abortion laws into compliance with Roe in 1973. Opposition was even stronger in Catholic New England. In Massachusetts, where fewer than 15 percent of the members of the state legislature were pro-choice, state representatives responded to Roe by passing a restrictive abortion bill drafted by Massachusetts Citizens for Life. Rhode Island was especially defiant; the state reacted to the Supreme Court’s decision not by legalizing abortion, but by adopting a law that declared that human life began at conception. Only a series of federal court decisions brought these holdouts into compliance with Roe – a process that was not completed until 1975. As a result, the number of legal abortions in the United States in 1973 was only 28 percent higher than it had been in 1972.
However, due to the swift action of lower courts in striking down state antiabortion laws, Roe did lead to widespread legal abortion within just a few years, and by 1980, there were 1.5 million legal abortions per year in the United States, which amounted to nearly one abortion for every two live births.