50 Years, Gone: Supreme Court Officially Overturns Roe V. Wade

50 Years, Gone: Supreme Court Officially Overturns Roe V. Wade
Protestors react to the Dobbs v Jackson Women's Health Organisation ruling which overturns the landmark abortion Roe v. Wade case in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on June 24, 2022 in Washington, DC. (Photo: Anna Moneymaker, Getty Images)

The U.S. Supreme Court has officially overturned Roe V. Wade, the landmark ruling that’s been defending abortion rights nationwide since 1973. The court’s decision also includes the repeal of Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which separately re-affirmed the contents of Roe in 1992.

On Friday, with a 6-3 majority, Justice Samuel Alito presented the lead opinion which he authored.

Roe was egregiously wrong from the start. Its reasoning was exceptionally weak,” he wrote. “The inescapable conclusion is that a right to abortion is not deeply rooted in the Nation’s histories and traditions.”

We knew this was coming. After all, those words are an exact match to the draft version of the opinion which was first leaked in a report by Politico on May 2. However, the advanced notice doesn’t make the Roe repeal any less impactful. The decision will trigger ripple effects nationwide for healthcare and likely for other Supreme Court cases moving forward.

In a solo, concurring opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote, “in future cases, we should reconsider all of this Court’s substantive due process precedents, including Griswold, Lawrence, and Obergefell.” Those three past rulings protect contraception, same-sex relationships, and same-sex marriage respectively.

Today’s ruling came about via a case challenging Roe called Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, which made it to the Supreme Court last year. Mississippi’s only abortion care provider sued the state in federal court after its legislature enacted a 2018 ban on abortions beyond 15 weeks. The case escalated and was accepted by the Supreme Court in May 2021.

Since 2018, Mississippi passed an even more restrictive law banning abortions after six weeks (and so, effectively outlawed all abortion, as pregnancy is rarely detected that early). That law was blocked by an appeals court on the basis of Roe, but with the new Supreme Court decision, it can go into effect. And Mississippi isn’t alone.

Many states have already enacted extreme restrictions or full bans on abortions in the past few years and in the lead-up to the ruling. In Texas, a 6-week abortion ban has been in effect since September. Oklahoma’s governor signed a bill outlawing abortion at fertilisation in May. In total, at least 13 states have “trigger laws” in place, which are pieces of legislation banning abortion that are designed to go into effect immediately with the Roe repeal. 13 other states are now “certain or likely” to also outlaw abortion, according to the non-profit Guttmacher Institute.

Many of these laws don’t just ban abortion, but also outline penalties for both people seeking abortion care and providers offering abortion services. These penalties range from fines and civil action to criminal felony charges for providers. Already, people have begun to face legal consequences in the wave of anti-abortion legislation. Earlier this year, Texas prosecutors charged a woman with murder after she allegedly attempted to self-induce an abortion. The prosecutors later dropped those charges, but it’s a sign of what’s likely to come.

It’s highly possible that even online activity will become a standard part of the anti-abortion enforcement toolkit. In 2020, law enforcement imprisoned a woman in Mississippi on the basis of her internet searches for abortion pills. However, there are ways you can try to protect yourself online if you are seeking out information about abortion care on the internet. Just be aware that not all the information you see on search engines like Google is true or reliable.

Abortion is basic and necessary healthcare procedure, and it will not end in the U.S. with the end of Roe v. Wade. In countries with existing bans, abortions still happen at about the same rate as in countries where it’s legal, according to data from Guttmacher. However, without a federal law in place protecting a person’s right to an abortion, safe abortion won’t be as equally accessible to everyone. More people will die and suffer as a result.

Safe abortions are no longer only available via an in-clinic procedure. Medication abortions are safe and effective in early pregnancy, and as of 2021 are permanently allowed to be sent by mail. The coat hanger image and analogy isn’t the most fitting anymore. But there are still major health consequences to abortion bans. A 2021 study found that maternal mortality rates were higher in states with more abortion restrictions.

Another landmark research set from the University of California, San Francisco called the Turnaway Study found that people denied abortion care have higher rates of poverty, debt, bankruptcy, illness, and eviction compared with people granted a requested abortion. Those denied also faced higher rates of domestic violence and life-threatening pregnancy and postpartum complications. The researchers further found that children born as a result of abortion denial fared worse too, with higher rates of poverty and slower development than the general population.

The repeal of Roe and Casey sets healthcare back by five decades. Black, poor, LGBTQ, Indigenous, and disabled people, who are already the most vulnerable, will suffer the most for it. But all is not lost.

Even after today, abortion rights remain intact in many parts of the U.S.. 16 states and Washington D.C. have laws codifying the right to an abortion. There are also many groups and advocacy organisations continuing to fight to ensure that abortions remain safe and accessible for people everywhere, regardless of their home state.

You can read the full opinion embedded below:

Update 6/24/2022, 10:45 a.m. ET: This post has been updated with additional information from Justice Thomas’ solo opinion.