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

by Barbara R. Abercrombie
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The Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision guaranteeing a woman’s constitutional right to abortion, by a 6-3 vote. In the majority opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health published Friday morning, Judge Samuel Alito wrote, “It is time to respect the Constitution and return the issue of abortion to the elected representatives of the people.”

The court’s decision will not criminalize abortion at the federal level but will return jurisdiction to individual states, of which 26 have laws restricting or prohibiting abortion. Those laws are expected to come into effect soon. The decision will send shockwaves across the nation. Protests and celebrations in the coming days are inevitable, as is new legislation surrounding the issue.

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

Supreme Court

It makes exceptions for medical emergencies or serious fetal abnormalities but not for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest.

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi ruled in November 2018 that the law was unconstitutional, unanimously upheld by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals 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 agreeing with the verdict, meaning he agreed that Mississippi law should be upheld, but for a different legal reasoning.

Judges Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor, and Stephen Breyer disagreed, declaring the “cavalier majority approach to overturn the precedents of this Court”.

“Whatever the precise scope of the forthcoming laws, one result of today’s decision is certain: the curtailment of women’s rights and their status as free and equal citizens,” the dissident judges wrote.

In early May, a draft of Alito’s opinion was leaked, tipping proponents on both sides of the abortion debate that the court would likely impeach Roe. In the draft, first reported by Politico, Alito said the 1973 ruling “was hugely wrong from the outset”.

After the leak in May, President Joe Biden released a statement saying 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 pave the way for challenging other fundamental rights,” including birth control, in vitro fertilization, and same-sex marriage.

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

CNET’s Carrie Mihalcik contributed to this report.

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