It is a day that the pro-choice left has dreaded ever since a leaked Supreme Court document weeks ago indicated that the Court was poised to overturn the landmark abortion rights decision Roe v. Wade.
The day has come, the Court has ruled, and in a decidedly divided ruling of 5 -3-1, it has effectively dismantled federal abortion protections. The decision allows dozens of eager states to enact so-called “trigger laws” and begin banning the procedure outright, including Texas and Mississippi; the state brought the case leading to the ruling.
The ruling came in the Court’s opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which centered on a Mississippi law that banned abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy. The Republican-led state of Mississippi asked the Supreme Court to strike down a lower court ruling that stopped the 15-week abortion ban from taking place.
“We end this opinion where we began. Abortion presents a profound moral question. The Constitution does not prohibit the citizens of each State from regulating or prohibiting abortion. Roe and Casey arrogated that authority. We now overrule those decisions and return that authority to the people and their elected representatives,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote in the Court’s opinion.
Alito’s opinion began with an exploration and criticism of Roe v. Wade and its holding that while states have “a legitimate interest in protecting ‘potential life,” this interest was not strong enough to prohibit abortions before the time of fetal viability, understood to be at about 23 weeks into pregnancy.
“The Court did not explain the basis for this line, and even abortion supporters have found it hard to defend Roe’s reasoning,” Alito wrote.
Chief Justice John Roberts agreed that the viability line “never made any sense,” but said he would have taken “a more measured course” with this case. Rather than overturn Roe v. Wade altogether, Roberts said he would have continued to recognize a right to get an abortion, and that the right should “extend far enough to ensure a reasonable opportunity to choose, but need not extend any further.”
The Court’s majority took a firmer stance against Roe v. Wade and the subsequent case Planned Parenthood v. Casey, holding “that Roe and Casey must be overruled.”
The decision, which had been anticipated for weeks after a draft opinion was leaked, reverses one of the most consequential judicial decrees in the past century and, according to pro-choice advocates, threatens to strand tens of millions of women across much of the South and Midwest who are of reproductive age.
At least 13 Republican-led states have already passed “trigger laws,” in the event Roe is overturned, that would immediately restrict access to abortion if the Supreme Court went so far as to overturn the 50-year precedent.
Georgia, Iowa, Ohio, and South Carolina all have laws banning abortions after the six-week mark, which have been ruled unconstitutional but would likely be revisited if Roe is overturned, the Guttmacher Institute, a pro-abortion research group, has reported.
On the other hand, pro-choice advocates will have to work to codify Roe or enact looser abortion restrictions by passing state-level legislation.