Washington ‒ A deeply divided US Supreme Court overturned the 1973 Roe v Wade decision and wiped out the constitutional right to abortion, issuing a historic ruling likely to render the procedure largely illegal in half the country.
The court voted along ideological lines 6-3 to uphold Mississippi's ban after 15 weeks of pregnancy, and 5-4 to go further and explicitly overturn Roe and the constitutional right it established.
The impact promises to be transformational. Twenty-six states either will or are likely to ban almost all abortions, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research organisation that backs abortion rights. Thirteen have so-called trigger laws designed to automatically outlaw abortion if Roe is overturned.
The outcome tracks a draft majority opinion Politico obtained and published on May 3. Writing for the majority, Justice Samuel Alito said the Roe court “usurped the power to address a question of profound moral and social importance that the Constitution unequivocally leaves for the people”.
Justices Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett joined Alito in the majority. Chief Justice John Roberts said he would have upheld the Mississippi law but stopped short of directly overturning Roe.
The court's three Democratic appointees ‒ Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan ‒ filed a joint dissent, a highly unusual move.
“Whatever the exact scope of the coming laws, one result of today’s decision is certain: the curtailment of women’s rights, and of their status as free and equal citizens,” the group wrote.
The ruling fulfils a decades-old dream for legal and religious conservatives, capping a half-century fight to overrule one of the most controversial opinions in US history. The majority also overturned Planned Parenthood v Casey, the 1992 decision that reaffirmed Roe and laid out what has been the controlling law ever since. Casey said the Constitution’s 14th Amendment barred states from imposing significant restrictions until foetal viability, roughly 23 weeks into pregnancy.
Abortion-rights supporters say overturning Roe will have a devastating impact, threatening decades of economic gain for women and depriving millions of the right to make deeply personal health-care decisions. They say the effect will be especially large for black and Hispanic women, who are more likely to lack the funds and ability to take time off work to travel out of state for an abortion.
The decision is likely to unleash battles on multiple new fronts, including efforts to block patients from travelling to clinics across state lines and from receiving abortion-inducing pills by mail. Other fights will centre on the status of long-dormant abortion laws, including a 1931 Michigan ban. Lawmakers in anti-abortion states will have to decide whether to make exceptions for cases of rape or incest and whether to impose criminal penalties on people who get abortions.
As he did in his draft opinion, Alito said Roe was “egregiously wrong” and “on a collision course with the Constitution from the day it was decided”. Alito said that because the Constitution doesn’t explicitly mention the right to abortion, it needed to be “deeply rooted in the nation’s history and traditions” to be protected. ‒ The Washington Post
The Independent on Saturday