On January 22, 1973, the United States Supreme Court ruled 7-2 that women had a constitutional right to choose to have an abortion in the landmark case Roe v. Wade. For nearly 50 years after the decision was made, individuals were given a constitutionally protected choice, though, on several occasions, individuals sought to have this choice revoked and opposed the court’s decision.
Over the decades, several cases came to fruition, challenging the 1973 decision, though all were ultimately unsuccessful. But, 49 years later, a new case surfaced which posed the question: ban on pre-viability abortions unconstitutional?
What is Roe v. Wade?
Norma McCorvey, who used the pseudonym Jane Roe, was seeking an abortion in her home state of Texas, where they were illegal, barring a necessary procedure to save the mother’s life. She had a lawsuit filed against district attorney Henry Wade stating that Texas’ abortion laws were unconstitutional, eventually bringing the case to the Supreme Court. At first, a three-judge court of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas heard the case, ruling in favor of McCorvey. However, the parties appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court, where it was heard in January 1973. The court’s decision held that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment in the Constitution provided individuals a fundamental right to privacy, thus protecting a pregnant person’s right to choose an abortion.
What is Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization?
This case began in 2018 after Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which is a clinic and abortion facility located in Mississippi, challenged the constitutionality of the “Gestational Age Act” in federal court after it was enacted on March 19, 2018. The law would prohibit abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy, with exceptions if the mother’s life was endangered. Jackson Women’s Health Organization sued the state’s health officer with the Mississippi State Department of Health, Thomas E. Dobbs. The state eventually took the case to the Supreme Court, first to uphold its ban, arguing that it aligned with Roe v. Wade’s ruling. Later the state changed its approach, asking the Supreme Court to overrule the existing law outright.
What did the Supreme Court decide?
On Friday, June 24, 2022, the United States Supreme Court voted on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a case surrounding a state law in Mississippi that banned abortion after 15 weeks. The law was struck down as unconstitutional by a lower court due to Roe v. Wade, which protected a pregnant person’s right to abortion before fetal viability, approximately 24 weeks of gestational age. However, Mississippi appealed the court’s ruling, sending the case to the Supreme Court and opening up the opportunity for the Supreme Court to rule on the constitutionality of banning abortion before viability.
The Supreme Court ultimately voted 6-3 to uphold the Mississippi law and 5-4 to overturn Roe v. Wade. Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel A. Alito Jr., Neil M. Gorsuch, Brett M. Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett voted to overturn Roe v. Wade, while Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, and John G. Roberts Jr. voted to uphold the landmark case.
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What does this decision mean?
The overturning of Roe v. Wade does not signify the end of abortion access across all 50 states; however, it now allows each individual state to set its own laws. Washington D.C. and 16 states have laws in place that protect an individual’s right to an abortion, including California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, and Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington.
However, there are also 26 states that are expected to ban abortions following the Supreme Court’s ruling. There are 13 states that had trigger laws in place, which were designed to be instated soon after the overturning of Roe w. Wade. Those states whose laws ban abortion with very limited exceptions include: Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming.
Alabama, Arizona, Michigan, West Virginia, and Wisconsin all had laws in place prior to the original Roe v. Wade decision that is expected to be reinstated. As for the remaining states, it’s likely that Georgia, Iowa, Ohio, and South Carolina will ban abortion after six weeks, while Florida, Indiana, Montana, and Nebraska are expected to ban abortions.
What are the implications of overturning Roe v. Wade?
With abortion access at risk in more than half of the states in the country, the decision to overturn Roe v. Wade has everlasting implications that disproportionately affect specific groups, including different races, income levels, as well as those who live in rural areas. Statistics today reveal that while 60% of abortions are obtained by pregnant people during their 20s, and 59% are obtained by individuals who already have children, 49% of individuals choose abortion to live below the federal poverty level.
Dr. Herminia Palacio, Guttmacher Institute President and CEO said in a statement, “Evidence also shows the disproportionate and unequal impact abortion restrictions have on people who are already marginalized and oppressed—including Black and Brown communities, other people of color, people with low incomes, young people, LGBTQ communities, immigrants and people with disabilities.”
In the United States, approximately 700 women die from pregnancy-related complications every year, but 3 out of 5 pregnancy-related deaths could be prevented. Black women already faced systemic struggles when it comes to sexual healthcare. Today, they experience greater obstacles when accessing sexual and reproductive health services than non-Hispanic white women, leading to a higher rate of sexually transmitted infections, reproductive cancers, and unplanned pregnancies.
“Today’s opinion shifting reproductive health decision-making to lawmakers opens a deep political rift between states over access to reproductive health services that places sound medical practice and the health of patients at risk,” Jack Resneck, Jr. M.D., President of the American Medical Association, said in a statement. “State restrictions that intrude on the practice of medicine and interfere with the patient-physician relationship leave millions with little or no access to reproductive health services while criminalizing medical care.”