The U.S. Supreme Court ended constitutional abortion protections that had been in place for nearly 50 years in a decision by its conservative majority to overturn Roe v. Wade. Friday’s result is expected to lead to abortion bans in about half of the states.
The decision, unthinkable just a few years ago, was the culmination of decades of effort by abortion opponents, made possible by an emboldened right side of the court that was bolstered by three appointees from the former US President Donald Trump.
The decision came more than a month after a staggering leak of a draft opinion from Judge Samuel Alito indicating the court was ready to take this momentous step.
This puts the court at odds with a majority of Americans who were in favor of preserving Roe, according to opinion polls.
Alito, in the final opinion issued Friday, wrote that Roe and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the 1992 decision that reaffirmed the right to abortion, were wrong the day they were decided and should be reversed.
“We therefore believe that the Constitution does not confer a right to abortion. Roe and Casey must be overturned and the power to regulate abortion must be returned to the people and their elected representatives,” Alito wrote.
The power to regulate abortion rests with the political branches, not the courts, Alito wrote.
Justices Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett joined Alito. The final three judges are appointed by Trump. Thomas first voted to overrule Roe 30 years ago.
Chief Justice John Roberts reportedly stopped short of ending abortion rights, noting he would have upheld the Mississippi law at the heart of the case, a 15-week abortion ban, and not wouldn’t have said more.
Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan – the court’s diminished liberal wing – disagreed.
“With sorrow — to this Court, but more so, to the millions of American women who today lost fundamental constitutional protection — we disagree,” they wrote.
The decision is expected to disproportionately affect minority women who already have limited access to health care, according to statistics analyzed by The Associated Press.
Mississippi’s only abortion clinic, which is at the center of the case, continued to see patients on Friday. Outside, men used a megaphone to tell people inside the clinic that they would burn in hell. Clinic escorts wearing colorful vests used large stereo speakers to blast Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down” at protesters.
Mississippi is one of 13 states, mostly in the South and Midwest, that already have laws in effect prohibiting abortion in the event of Roe’s annulment. Another half dozen states have bans or near-total bans after 6 weeks of pregnancy, before many women know they are pregnant.
In about half a dozen other states, the fight will be over dormant abortion bans that were enacted before Roe’s 1973 ruling or new proposals to sharply limit when abortions can be performed, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports abortion. rights.
More than 90% of abortions take place during the first 13 weeks of pregnancy, and more than half are now performed with pills, not surgery, according to data compiled by Guttmacher.
The decision came amid public opinion polls that find a majority of Americans oppose Roe’s overturning and put the question of whether to allow abortion entirely to the states. Polls by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and others have also consistently shown that about 1 in 10 Americans want abortion to be illegal anyway. A majority favors legalizing abortion in all or most circumstances, but polls indicate that many also support restrictions, particularly later in pregnancy.
The Biden administration and other abortion rights advocates have warned that a ruling overturning Roe would also threaten other High Court rulings in favor of gay rights and potentially even contraception.
The Liberal justices made the same point in their joint dissent: The majority “removes a 50-year-old constitutional right that protects women’s liberty and equality. It violates a fundamental principle of the rule of law, designed to promote consistency in law. By doing all of this, he jeopardizes other rights, from contraception to same-sex intimacy and marriage. And finally, it undermines the legitimacy of the Court.
But Alito maintained that his analysis was only about abortion. “Nothing in this opinion should be construed as challenging precedents that do not relate to abortion,” he wrote.
Regardless of the intentions of whoever leaked Alito’s draft opinion, the Tories held their ground to overthrow Roe and Casey.
In her draft, Alito rejected arguments for upholding both rulings, including that several generations of American women have relied in part on abortion rights to gain economic and political power.
Changing the composition of the court has been central to the anti-abortion strategy. Mississippi and its allies have made increasingly aggressive arguments as the case has evolved, and two abortion rights advocates in the High Court have retired or died. The state initially argued that its law could be upheld without overriding court precedents on abortion.
Then-Governor. Phil Bryant signed the 15-week measure in March 2018, while Justices Anthony Kennedy and Ruth Bader Ginsburg were still members of a five-judge majority that primarily protected abortion rights.
By early summer, Kennedy had retired and was replaced by Judge Brett Kavanaugh a few months later. The Mississippi law has stalled in lower federal courts.
But the state has always gone to the highest court in the land. He didn’t even seek a hearing before a three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which ultimately ruled the law invalid in December 2019.
In early September 2020, the Supreme Court was ready to consider the state’s appeal.
The court has scheduled the case for consideration at the judges’ private conference on September 29. But in the weeks that followed, Ginsburg passed away and Barrett was quickly nominated and confirmed without a single Democratic vote.
The stage was now set, although it took another six months for the court to agree to hear the case.
By the time Mississippi filed its main written argument with the court this summer, the focus of its argument had changed and it was now calling for Roe and Casey to be quashed altogether.
The first sign that the court might be receptive to erasing the constitutional right to abortion came in late summer, when justices split 5-4 to allow Texas to enforce a ban on abortion. procedure at about six weeks, before some women even know it. are pregnant. This dispute centered on the unique structure of the law, including its enforcement by private citizens rather than state officials, and how it can be challenged in court.
But Justice Sonia Sotomayor noted in a searing dissent for the three liberal justices that their conservative colleagues refused to block “a patently unconstitutional law” that “flouts nearly 50 years of federal precedent.” Roberts was also among the dissenters.
Then in December, after hearing additional arguments about whether to block the Texas law known as SB 8, the court again declined to do so, also by a 5-4 vote. clear and the actual effect of SB 8 was to overrule the decisions of this Court,” Roberts wrote, in a partial dissent.
In their Senate hearings, Trump’s three high court picks carefully sidestepped questions about how they would vote in any case, including on abortion.
But even as Democrats and abortion rights supporters predicted that Kavanaugh and Gorsuch would vote to overturn abortion rights if upheld, the two left at least one Republican senator with a different impression. Senator Susan Collins of Maine predicted that Gorsuch and Kavanaugh would not support overturning abortion cases, based on private conversations she had with them when they were nominated to the Supreme Court.
Barrett was perhaps the most vocal opponent of abortion during her time as a law professor, before becoming a federal judge in 2017. She was a member of anti-abortion groups at Notre Dame University, where she taught law, and she signed an ad in a newspaper. opposing “abortion on demand” and defending “the right to life, from fertilization to natural death”. She promised to put aside her personal opinions when judging cases.
Trump, meanwhile, predicted as a candidate that whoever he appoints to the court would “automatically” vote to overrule Roe.