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Women's Rights and the Fourteenth Amendment - Finally Applied

Reed v. Reed and Roe v. Wade


Reed v. Reed

In 1971, the Supreme Court heard arguments in the case of Reed v. Reed. Sally Reed had sued when Idaho law presumed that her estranged husband should be automatically selected as executor of the estate of their son, who had died without naming an executor. The Idaho law stated that "males must be preferred to females" in choosing estate administrators.

The Supreme Court, in an opinion written by Chief Justice Warren E. Burger, decided that the Fourteenth Amendment did prohibit such unequal treatment on the basis of sex -- the first US Supreme Court decision to apply the Fourteenth Amendment's equal protection clause to gender or sexual distinctions. Later cases have refined the application of the Fourteenth Amendment to sex discrimination, but it was more than 100 years after passage of the Fourteenth Amendment before it was applied to women's rights.

Roe v. Wade

In 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court found in Roe v. Wade that the Fourteenth Amendment restricted, on the basis of the Due Process clause, the government's ability to restrict or prohibit abortions. Any criminal abortion statute that did not take into account the stage of pregnancy and other interests than merely the life of the mother was deemed to be a violation of due process.

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