Jun 24, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade

Picture of the Supreme Court building with people in front of it holding signs that say "pray to end abortion" and "keep abortion legal"
Photo: Alex Edelman/AFP via Getty Images

The Supreme Court on Friday issued a ruling overturning Roe v. Wade, effectively ending all federal protections on abortion.

Driving the news: "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," Justice Samuel Alito wrote in the court's ruling.

The big picture: "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," Alito's opinion says.

  • "The viability line, which Casey termed Roe's central rule, makes no sense, and it is telling that other countries almost uniformly eschew such a line. The Court thus asserted raw judicial power to impose, as a matter of constitutional law, a uniform viability rule that allows the States less freedom to regulate abortion than the majority of western democracies enjoy."
  • "All in all, Roe's reasoning was exceedingly weak, and academic commentators, including those who agreed with the decision as a matter of policy, were unsparing in their criticism."
  • Alito said Roe was "egregiously wrong and deeply damaging," adding that the decision's "constitutional analysis was far outside the bounds of any reasonable interpretation of the various constitutional provisions to which it vaguely pointed."
  • Supporters of Roe have "failed" to show that the Supreme Court has the power to decide how to regulate abortion, Alito said, so the court must "return the power [to states] to weigh those arguments to the people and their elected representatives."
  • Alito wrote that the right to have an abortion is not included in the due process clause of the 14th Amendment.

Details: The justices voted 6-3 to overturn the specific Mississippi abortion law at the center of this case. Chief Justice John Roberts, however, said he would have stopped there, rather than overturning Roe altogether.

The other side: "Respecting a woman as an autonomous being, and granting her full equality, meant giving her substantial choice over this most personal and most consequential of all life decisions," wrote Justices Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor in their dissent.

  • The court "says that from the very moment of fertilization, a woman has no rights to speak of. A State can force her to bring a pregnancy to term, even at the steepest personal and familial costs."
  • "The Mississippi law at issue here bars abortions after the 15th week of pregnancy. Under the majority's ruling, though, another State's law could do so after 10 weeks, or five or three or one — or, again, from the moment of fertilization," the justices said, calling laws restricting abortion access "draconian."
  • "[S]ome States will not stop there. Perhaps, in the wake of today's decision, a state law will criminalize the woman's conduct too, incarcerating or fining her for daring to seek or obtain an abortion. And as Texas has recently shown, a State can turn neighbor against neighbor."

Between the lines: Justice Clarence Thomas filed a concurring opinion in which he says the Supreme Court should "reconsider all of this court's substantive due process precedents, including Griswold, Lawrence and Obergefell."

  • The cases Thomas mentions protect access to contraceptives, same-sex relationships and same-sex marriage.
What does reversing Roe v. Wade mean

What happens now: Without Roe and other Supreme Court precedents guaranteeing abortion access, states have the legal authority to regulate or ban the procedure at any point in a pregnancy — including at fertilization.

  • 13 states have "trigger" laws in place making abortion illegal that specifically say that they will take effect shortly after the court overturns its precedents. More states are expected to restrict the procedure.

The intrigue: State lawmakers in red states were already working to pass and enact laws restricting abortion access — even with Roe still in place — in preparation for abortion access protections to disappear.

Catch up fast: The court heard oral arguments in December in Dobbs v. Jackson, a case challenging a Mississippi law banning abortion after 15 weeks, which violated Roe and other Supreme Court precedents protecting abortion.

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Editors' note: This story has been updated to note Roberts' objection to overturning Roe.

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