Liberal Arts Blog — Math of Roe v Wade

Liberal Arts Blog — Monday is the Joy of Math, Statistics, Shapes, and Numbers Day

Today’s topic — Math of Roe v Wade: Public Opinion, Doctrine, Pre-Term Infant Survival Rates

In Roe v Wade (1973), the Supreme Court ruled 7–2 that the right to have an abortion is a fundamental right but that, as with all other fundamental rights, the woman’s right to an abortion is not absolute. That is the woman’s right must be weighed against the state’s interest in the health of the mother and life of the fetus from the point of viability. It further held that any state regulation of the abortion right be held to the highest standard of review — so-called “strict scrutiny.” Today a few notes on evolving public opinion, Supreme Court doctrine, and pre-term infant survival rates. Experts — please chime in. Correct, elaborate, elucidate.


1. How many Americans know what Roe v Wade was about? 62% of all Americans, 44% of Americans under 30. (Latest data I could find was from 2013.)

2. How many Americans think abortion is not of critical importance? About 53% in 2013 up from 32% in 2006. But there is a very sharp split between those who attend church regularly (37% of the population) and those who don’t. Two thirds of regular church goers consider abortion to be critically important. Two thirds of the others don’t.

3. Should Roe be completely overturned? 70% of Americans oppose it. The percentage of men and women is very close: 69% (men) versus 70% (women). This data is from 2019.


1. In Roe v Wade the Court came up with a trimester framework in its attempt to balance the mother’s right to an abortion and the state’s interest in maternal health and the life of the fetus: “during the first trimester, governments could not prohibit abortions at all; during the second trimester, governments could require reasonable health regulations; during the third trimester, abortions could be prohibited entirely so long as the laws contained exceptions for cases when they were necessary to save the life or health of the mother.”

2. The trimester framework and the “strict scrutiny” standard were both abandoned in the 1992 decision of Planned Parenthood v Casey. The Court ruled that the state could intervene at any point in the pregnancy so long as the intervention did not constitute an “undue burden” on the woman’s right to choose.

3. “On account of technological developments between 1973 and 1992, viability itself was legally dissociated from the hard line of 28 weeks, leaving the point at which “undue burdens” were permissible variable depending on the technology of the time and the judgment of the state legislatures.” (10th link below)


1. Should elective abortions be allowed after 22 weeks? 24 weeks?

2. “Seven out of 198 countries allow elective abortions after 20 weeks”

3. “There are 59 countries that allow abortion “without restriction as to reason,” or “elective,” or “abortion on demand.” These are countries where the letter of the federal law does not impose specific eligibility requirements for women. The other 139 countries “require some reason to obtain an abortion, ranging from most restrictive (to save the life of the mother or completely prohibited) to least restrictive (socioeconomic grounds) with various reasons in between (e.g., physical health, mental health)…”

NB: “Only seven of the 59 countries allow elective abortions after 20 weeks… Canada, China, Netherlands, North Korea, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam.”

U.S. Public Continues to Favor Legal Abortion, Oppose Overturning Roe v. Wade

Public Opinion on Abortion


Most Americans No Longer Think the Abortion Debate is All That Important

How Important is the Abortion Issue?

Analysis | Is the United States one of seven countries that ‘allow elective abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy?’

Last three years of posts organized thematically:

PDF with headlines — Google Drive


Please share the coolest thing you learned this week related to math, statistics, or numbers in general. Or, even better, the coolest or most important thing you learned in your life related to math.

This is your chance to make someone else’s day. And to consolidate in your memory something you might otherwise forget. Or to think more deeply than otherwise about something dear to your heart. Continuity is key to depth of thought.



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