Supreme Court Overturns Roe v. Wade, Ending the Constitutional Right to an Abortion

More than half of US states have laws restricting or banning abortion.

The Supreme Court has overturned Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision guaranteeing a woman’s constitutional right to have an abortion, in a 6-3 vote.

In the majority opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health issued Friday morning, Justice Samuel Alito wrote that “It is time to heed the Constitution and return the issue of abortion to the people’s elected representatives.”

The court’s decision doesn’t criminalize abortion at the federal level but returns jurisdiction to individual states, 26 of which have laws restricting or banning abortion. Those laws are expected to take effect soon. The decision will send shock waves through the nation. Protests and celebrations in the coming days are inevitable, as is new legislation surrounding the issue.

Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health looked at the Gestational Age Act, a 2018 Mississippi law banning most abortions after the first 15 weeks of pregnancy, much earlier than the precedent established by Roe v. Wade and subsequent cases.

It makes exceptions for medical emergency or severe fetal abnormality but not for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest.

The US District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi ruled the law was unconstitutional in November 2018, a decision unanimously upheld by the 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals a little more than a year later.

In October 2021, Mississippi appealed to the Supreme Court, which agreed to hear arguments.

Alito was joined by Justices Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett, the court’s conservative wing. Chief Justice John Roberts filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, meaning he agreed the Mississippi law should be upheld but for different legal reasoning.

Justices Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor and Stephen Breyer dissented and called out the majority’s “cavalier approach to overturning this Court’s precedents.”

“Whatever the exact scope of the coming laws, one result of today’s decision is certain: the curtailment of women’s rights, and of their status as free and equal citizens,” wrote the dissenting justices.

A draft of Alito’s opinion was leaked in early May, tipping off advocates on both sides of the abortion debate that the court was likely to strike down Roe. In the draft, first reported by Politico, Alito said the 1973 ruling “was egregiously wrong from the start.”

After the May leak, President Joe Biden released a statement saying that he believes a woman’s right to choose is “fundamental.”

Vice President Kamala Harris said in a White House roundtable last week that overturning the ruling “could clear the way for challenges to other fundamental rights,” including contraception, in vitro fertilization and same-sex marriage.

A June 13 poll from the Pew Research Center found that 61% of Americans believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases, compared with 37% who think it should be criminalized in most circumstances.

 

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