- The United States Supreme Court ruled Friday, June 24, to overturn Roe v. Wade, eliminating Americans’ constitutional right to abortion.
- Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973 and guaranteed a right to abortion until a fetus was viable.
- In the case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the Supreme Court evaluated the constitutionality of Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban.
- Mississippi had asked the Court to overrule Roe to uphold the 15-week ban.
The United States Supreme Court has voted to overturn Roe v. Wade — the landmark ruling that has protected pregnant people’s right to get an abortion before fetal viability since 1973.
In the case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the Court has been evaluating the constitutionality of Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban.
Mississippi’s ban has been blocked since 2018 when an appeals court ruled that the ban places an undue burden on pregnant people seeking an abortion.
Mississippi had asked the Court to overrule Roe to uphold the 15-week ban.
In May, Politico published a leaked draft opinion crafted by Justice Samuel Alito, hinting that the Court — which has a 6-3 conservative majority — was prepared to take down Roe.
The Court announced Friday that, in a 6-3 decision, it would be overturning Roe in their ruling on Dobbs and there would no longer be a constitutional right to abortion.
Without Roe’s protections, individual states will regulate abortion and decide if and when a person can get an abortion.
President Joe Biden addressed the nation from the White House on Friday, stating that the decision takes America back 150 years.
“Now with Roe gone, let’s be very clear: The health and life of women in this nation are now at risk,” Biden said.
The Court’s decision on Roe
The Court’s final opinion, published on June 24, 2022 and written by Justice Samuel Alito, held that there is no longer a constitutional right to abortion.
“The Constitution does not confer a right to abortion; Roe and Casey are overruled; and the authority to regulate abortion is returned to the people and their elected representatives,” the opinion states.
The Court’s three democratic justices — Justices Steven Breyer, Sonia Sotomayer and Elena Kagan — filed a joint dissent.
Justice Alito argued that the dissent cannot argue that abortion is rooted in the nation’s history.
“This decision, read in conjunction with yesterday’s decision on gun control, demonstrates the Court’s (or the conservative majority’s) maddening lack of concern for the real world consequences of their decisions and the real people who will suffer because of them,” Alison Gash, PhD, an associate professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Oregon, told Healthline.
Justice Brett Kavanaugh concurred with the ruling and argued that states cannot block pregnant people from traveling to other states for abortion care and that states cannot punish people who received an abortion before the Court’s ruling takes effect.
Justice Clarence Thomas called for the Court to reconsider other precedents, including those on same-sex marriage and contraception.
“Thomas’s concurrence reads like a call to action especially against gay rights. The fact that it not only calls upon the Court to reconsider past cases that rest on substantive due process but specifically calls out Obergefell and Lawrence will place those rights at risk,” Gash said.
How states will respond to the fall of Roe
Twenty-six states will partially or fully ban abortions without Roe, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a New York-based organization committed to advancing sexual and reproductive health and rights.
If all 26 states restrict or ban abortion, that will affect more than 36 million women — in addition to all of the other people who can become pregnant — who may lose the right to an abortion in their state.
Thirteen of these states have trigger bans designed to go into effect when Roe is overturned, and nine states have bans in place from before Roe that may immediately go back into effect.
Five states have abortion bans that were enacted after Roe, 11 states have six-week bans that are not yet in effect due to protections from Roe and one state, Texas, has a six-week ban that’s already in effect.
Ohio is expected to be one of the first states to pass a total abortion ban. Republican Gov. Mike DeWine has said he will reverse a block against a six-week abortion ban when the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade.
Florida, Indiana, Montana and Nebraska are also expected to ban abortion quickly.
Sixteen states and the District of Columbia have laws protecting the right to abortion.
New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina, Illinois, Minnesota, Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Washington, Oregon and California are unlikely to ban abortion and would have the nearest provider for people from states where abortions will be banned.
“This is a pivotal moment in history, and unfortunately it’s a moment that will live in the infamy as the day that the United States of America, a progressive country, took a step back in equal rights for all citizens in the country,” Dr. Vivek Cherian, a Chicago Based Internal Medicine Physician, said.
What this means for pregnant people across the country
Jessie Hill, JD, a constitutional law professor at Case Western Reserve University specializing in reproductive health rights, says though the ruling was expected, it is hard to describe what a monumental moment this is.
Without federal protections, pregnant people living in states banning abortion will have to travel hundreds, if not thousands, of miles to get abortion care.
“The Supreme Court’s ruling today is going to severely impact the medical care available to women everywhere because one of the most important principles in medicine is a patient’s autonomy (you are in charge of your own health), with this ruling today we’ve robbed half the population of that right,” says Cherian.
Clinics in states that continue to conduct abortions are preparing to meet an influx of pregnant people traveling out of state for care.
The overflow of patients means many clinics will have longer wait times.
“I also expect, in the short term, a period of tremendous uncertainty as doctors and others are trying to understand the contours of the law, make sense of confusing and vaguely worded exceptions, and just figure out what rights they have today,” Hill said.
Many people who can not afford to travel for abortion care will be forced to carry the pregnancy to term.
Research has previously shown that when pregnant people are denied an abortion they are more likely to experience financial difficulties, mental health issues and physical health problems.
The consequences are most pronounced in Black, Latino and Indigenous communities.
“I expect the impact will be absolutely devastating, particularly and disproportionately on people with low incomes and people of color, who are already heavily targeted by our legal system and who already have less access to reproductive health care,” says Hill.
Past evidence has found that abortion restrictions do not lower abortion rates — they only make them less safe.
“The most important point to understand is this doesn’t mean that abortions will no longer happen it simply means that abortions will no longer happen in a safe environment subsequently putting women at greater risk and possibly even increasing the rate of female deaths due to poorly executed abortion procedures that women that are desperate for a procedure may try to do at home or elsewhere without the appropriate medical supervision,” Cherian said.
The bottom line:
The United States Supreme Court has voted to overturn Roe v. Wade — the landmark ruling that has protected pregnant people’s right to get an abortion before fetal viability. Without Roe, individual states will decide if and when pregnant people can get an abortion. Twenty-six states are set to quickly ban or restrict abortions, and an estimated 36 million women may lose the right to abortion in their state.