On June 24, the Supreme Court formally overturned its landmark Roe vs. 49-year-old Wade, thus ending half a century of constitutionally guaranteed abortion rights in the United States.
The 6-3 decision in the case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, became publicly known in May for an unprecedented leak of an initial draft of the majority opinion, written by Judge Samuel Alito.
But even though the final official version was slightly less strident than the leaked document, the impact is the same. The right to abortion has been eliminated as if it never existed.
Now, the decision to allow the medical procedure will rest with individual state governments, and only 16, along with the District of Columbia, have passed laws to preserve the option, while two others have state constitutional protections that have been cited by state courts. as abortion protections.
The majority opinion, whose signers included Justice Clarence Thomas and the three justices appointed by President Donald Trump – Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett – said in no uncertain terms that the 1973 Roe and a 1992 case that reaffirmed that Law, Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, they had bad bugs.
“The Constitution makes no reference to abortion, and no such right is implicitly protected by any constitutional provision,” Alito wrote. “It is time to heed the Constitution and return the issue of abortion to the elected representatives of the people.”
Chief Justice John Roberts, an abortion opponent who had reported when the case came up in December that he favored keeping Mississippi’s law at the center of the case, agreed with the ruling but filed his own concurring opinion in which he said he would not have gone that far.
“I would have taken a more measured path,” he wrote. “The Court’s opinion is thoughtful and comprehensive, but those virtues cannot make up for the fact that its dramatic and consequential ruling is unnecessary in deciding the case before us.”
On the other hand, the three remaining liberals on the court, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and Stephen Breyer, who is retiring at the end of this term, pulled no punches. “…one result of today’s decision is clear: the reduction of the rights of women and their status as free and equal citizens,” Breyer wrote, in a dissent signed by the three liberals.
“Yesterday, the Constitution guaranteed that a woman facing an unplanned pregnancy could (within reasonable limits) make her own decision about having a child, with all the life-changing consequences that act implies… But not anymore. As of today, this court holds, a State can always compel a woman to give birth, prohibiting even the earliest abortions.
It’s hard to overstate the impact of the court’s action. While the Supreme Court has in the past reversed longstanding decisions, particularly in cases involving race relations, the court has never granted a right and then struck it down.
In this case the impact is also immediate. Thirteen states have so-called “trigger laws” banning abortion, which will go into effect after Roe is overturned. Other states have pre-Roe abortion bans that could kick back in, and some have post-Roe restrictions that are blocked by the courts but could also go into effect.
In all, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which monitors reproductive health policy, 26 states are likely to ban or severely restrict abortion now that it’s formally permitted.
The reaction of those who support abortion rights was swift, although there is little they can do immediately to stop the wave of bans or restrictions. Congress, while having a majority of members who support abortion rights in at least some circumstances, lacks the votes in the Senate to overcome filibuster legislation.
President Joe Biden, in a brief presentation shortly after the decision was announced, said he strongly disagreed with the ruling. “It is a sad day for the court and for the country,” he said. “The health and lives of women in this nation are now at risk.”
Although his options are limited, Biden said he would act to ensure that women in states that ban abortion can cross state lines to get care, and that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved abortion pill, mifepristone continue to be available.
Attorney General Merrick Garland expanded on that in a statement. “States cannot ban mifepristone based on their disagreement with the FDA’s expert judgment on its safety and efficacy,” he warned.
But at the end of the day, the only body that can restore abortion rights across the country is Congress. “This fall, Roe is on the ballot,” Biden said.
And those on both sides of the debate are already bracing themselves. “Everyone who is running for anything will have this decision in their hands,” promised Alexis McGill Johnson, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood.
“Today’s result raises the stakes in the midterm elections,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America. “Voters will debate and decide this issue and they deserve to know where every candidate stands in America, including those who toe the Democratic Party line of unlimited abortion on demand.”
KHN (Kaiser Health News) is the newsroom of KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation), which produces in-depth health journalism. It is one of three major programs of KFF, a nonprofit organization that analyzes the nation’s health and public health issues.