Julie Rovner at NPR News: 'Roe V. Wade' Turns 40, But Abortion Debate Is Even Older

One important thing most people don’t realize, says Greenhouse, is that the move to relax state abortion laws came not from women’s rights groups but from the medical profession and a prominent apolitical group of judges and lawyers called theAmerican Law Institute.

"These were heavily, heavily male-dominated professional organizations that looked at the regime of criminal abortion laws that were driving women to back alleys and were putting doctors in legal jeopardy if they acted in what they considered to be the best interests of their patients," Greenhouse says. "And that’s where the impetus really began."

Even those on the other side of the abortion debate don’t dispute that the debate began well before the Supreme Court entered the fray. David O’Steen, executive director of the National Right to Life Committee, notes that the American Law Institute’s model law called for allowing abortions in cases of rape, incest and fetal abnormality, and to preserve the physical health of the pregnant woman.

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