As Mimi Swartz wrote in her award-winning feature on the abortion fight in Texas, “the story of Roe v. Wade is, in many ways, the story of Texas women.” It was a Dallas woman—Norma McCorvey—who filed suit as Jane Roe in 1970, challenging the state’s abortion ban and eventually winning abortion rights for women nationally. And it was Texas politicians who slowly and creatively chipped away at Roe for decades, passing anti-abortion legislation that culminated last year in the passage of Senate Bill 8, a ban on abortions in the state after about six weeks of pregnancy, or when cardiac activity is first detected in the embryo. With the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision impending, the Supreme Court again has the opportunity to overrule Roe and return the power to legislate abortion to the states. In Texas, the overturning of Roe would activate a “trigger law,” also passed last year, which would make performing an abortion illegal thirty days after the court’s decision.
Founded in 1973, the year of the Supreme Court decision granting women the right to the procedure, Texas Monthly has been reporting on abortion access and the pivotal case since the magazine’s creation. Below, in chronological order, are seven stories that document the history of abortion rights as it runs through Texas and onto a larger, national stage.
Martha Hume, March 1974
The year after the court decision, Texas Monthly contributor Martha Hume surveyed the state of the newly legal procedure in Texas and provided a list of resources for Texans seeking abortions. She writes, “a middle-class white female Texas citizen living in Dallas, Houston, or San Antonio can now obtain a safe legal abortion without much trouble.” Anyone else—women of color and rural or impoverished women—faced issues of accessibility, including cost, physician availability or hesitancy, and the lack of free-standing abortion clinics outside of those three big cities.
The article also makes clear that the debate over abortion rights was still playing out in seventies Texas: “Despite the Supreme Court ruling, the fight between those who favor abortion and those who oppose it is still raging.”
Mimi Swartz, April 1989
At a single address in Dallas, in 1989, Mimi Swartz found a microcosm of the larger debate surrounding abortion. At the intersection of Fitzhugh Avenue and the Central Expressway, an abortion clinic performing an average of four thousand abortions a year sat across from what today might be described as a crisis pregnancy center. Swartz profiled the location and the controversy inherent in such a setup to document the continuing fight over the right to choose. The feature also introduced a new kind of anti-abortion protester, one who was “more vocal and more violent” than previous iterations.
At the time the story was published, the Supreme Court had agreed to hear a Missouri case that—like Dobbs—gave it the opportunity to overturn Roe. If the case is overruled, Swartz predicted at the time, “fifty state capitals will become battlefields.”
Pamela Colloff, February 2003
Thirty years after she argued—and won—Roe v. Wade, West Texas native Sarah Weddington looks back on the career that brought her before the Supreme Court and, later, into the White House as assistant to President Jimmy Carter. In this 2003 interview, she told Pamela Colloff, “I thought . . . that by this time, the thirtieth anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the controversy over abortion would have gradually faded away like the closing scenes of a movie and we could go on to other issues. I was wrong.”
Sarah Weddington died last year at age 76. She is remembered here by Mimi Swartz.
Pamela Colloff, July 2003
Colloff’s 2003 feature on small-town abortion access takes for its setting a Planned Parenthood clinic in Bryan, one of the only places where women in East Texas could receive the procedure (it has since closed). Thirty years after the passage of Roe, Colloff detailed the new front line of the abortion war: clinics themselves, where religious protesters focused their efforts on preventing what they believe to be murder. The story also tracks the further dissolution of abortion access as the number of providers dwindled in the state, from 135 in 1981 to nearly half of that, 65, at the time of publication.
Gary Cartwright, December 2004
Setting out to do a standard profile on Norma McCorvey, the Texan known to the nation as Jane Roe, Gary Cartwright instead veered into the personal, exploring his own relationship with and beliefs about abortion. A pro-choice Christian, Cartwright sought moral insight into a complex issue over which “the uproar of the true believers drowns out the moderate majority.” Ultimately, after speaking with pastors, fellow Christians, and McCorvey, who later in life became an evangelical Protestant opposed to abortion, Cartwright surmises that abortion has to be a woman’s choice, that “regardless of what happens to Roe v. Wade, that should be the law, and from it moderation should flow.”
Mimi Swartz, August 2012
“Mothers, Sisters, Daughters, Wives,” which appeared on a hot pink cover of Texas Monthly in August 2012, was an alarm bell alerting readers to the “all-out war on Planned Parenthood that has dramatically shifted the state’s public health priorities.” The piece, which would go on to win a National Magazine Award, followed “the most aggressively anti-abortion and anti-contraception” legislative session in Texas history, as well as the ensuing court battles and political campaigns that helped usher in a new era of attacks on abortion rights.
Mimi Swartz, 2021
An important update to her previous reporting, Swartz’s web piece “Going, Going, Gone” is not a narrative feature but rather an exhaustive list of the bills passed by increasingly right-wing legislators that eroded abortion rights in Texas over a period of fifty years.
In a personal introduction, Swartz remembers the warnings of older women after the passage of Roe: “Even something as seemingly permanent as a Supreme Court decision could be overturned, they said.”