The United States Supreme Court took the dramatic step on Friday of overturning the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which recognized a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion and legalized it nationwide, handing a significant victory to Republicans and religious conservatives who want to limit or ban the procedure.
In a 6-3 decision, the court maintained a Republican-backed Mississippi legislation that prohibits abortion beyond 15 weeks of pregnancy. The decision to overturn Roe was 5-4, with Chief Justice John Roberts writing separately to suggest he would have maintained the Mississippi statute but not gone so far as to erase the precedent entirely.
The judges ruled that the Roe v. Wade decision, which authorized abortions between 24 and 28 weeks of pregnancy before a fetus was viable outside the womb, was incorrectly determined since the U.S. Constitution provides no specific mention of abortion rights.
In May, a draft version of the opinion prepared by conservative Justice Samuel Alito that indicated the court was poised to overturn Roe was leaked, sparking a political firestorm. Alito’s decision on Friday was primarily based on his leaked draft.
“There is no mention to abortion in the Constitution, and no such right is implicitly guaranteed by any fundamental provision,” Alito said in his decision.
Roe v. Wade established that a woman’s right to personal privacy under the United States Constitution protects her ability to terminate her pregnancy. In Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, the Supreme Court upheld abortion rights and outlawed regulations that imposed a “undue barrier” on abortion access.
“Roe was completely incorrect from the start. Its logic was extremely faulty, and the conclusion had negative implications. And, far from bringing forth a national solution to the abortion controversy, Roe and Casey have fueled discussion and widened divisions “Alito continued.
Lower courts had blocked Mississippi’s bill as a breach of Supreme Court precedent on abortion rights.
The verdict restores the authority of states to establish laws limiting abortion by removing it as a fundamental right. Twenty-six states are currently considered definite or likely to outlaw abortion. Mississippi is one of 13 states that already have so-called trigger laws in place that would prohibit abortion if Roe v. Wade were overturned.
Abortion will almost certainly stay legal in liberal states. Currently, more than a dozen states have legislation safeguarding abortion rights. In recent years, some Republican-led states have imposed different abortion restrictions in contravention of the Roe v. Wade ruling.
Prior to the Roe ruling, many states prohibited abortion, leaving women with limited choices for terminating a pregnancy. As a result of Friday’s decision, women in huge swaths of America may be forced to choose between going to another state where the operation is still legal and available, purchasing abortion pills online, or having a possibly risky illegal abortion.
Christian conservatives and many Republican officeholders have long sought to overturn Roe v. Wade.
As a candidate in 2016, Republican former President Donald Trump vowed to nominate Supreme Court justices who will overturn Roe v. Wade. During his four years in government, he was able to select three conservative justices, accounting for one-third of the total, shifting the court to the right and establishing a 6-3 conservative majority. In Friday’s verdict, all three Trump appointees – Justices Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett – were in the majority.
Jackson Women’s Health Organization, Mississippi’s sole remaining abortion clinic, fought the 2018 legislation in court, with the help of Democratic President Joe Biden’s administration. The law allows abortions in cases of “medical urgency” or “severe fetal abnormalities,” but it makes no exemption for pregnancies caused by rape or incest.
In 2018, a federal judge overturned the legislation, citing the Roe v. Wade decision. In 2019, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans reached the same result.