In a landmark ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade on Friday, effectively removing the recognition of a person’s constitutional right to abortion. The ruling also gives the individual states power to regulate – whether to allow, limit, or ban – abortion.
The ruling comes in the Supreme Court’s opinion in the case Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which focused on a law in Mississippi that banned abortion after 15 weeks. The Republican-led Mississippi asked SCOTUS to overturn a ruling by a lower court that stopped the abortion ban from being executed.
“We end this opinion where we began. 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,” wrote Justice Samuel Alito in the Court’s opinion.
His opinion started with a discussion and criticism of Roe v. Wade, which holds that while states do have “a legitimate interest in protecting ‘potential life,” this was not enough to ban abortions prior to the time when a fetus is viable – around 23 weeks into pregnancy.
“The Court did not explain the basis for this line, and even abortion supporters have found it hard to defend Roe’s reasoning,” the justice wrote.
🚨🏛️ THREAD: Today we celebrate a historic victory for human rights as the Supreme Court overturns the dated Roe decision, ending half a century of abortion on demand that left more than 60 million dead children in its wake #LifeIsAHumanRight 1/ pic.twitter.com/zKl0L5fFqE
— SBA Pro-Life America (@sbaprolife) June 24, 2022
Chief Justice John Roberts agreed and reasoned that the viability section line “never made any sense” but mentioned he would have taken “a more measured course” in this case. Instead of overturning Roe v. Wade altogether, Roberts mentioned that they have continued to recognize a person’s right to get an abortion, adding that it should “extend far enough to ensure a reasonable opportunity to choose, but need not extend any further.”
The Court’s majority took a firmer stance against Roe v. Wade and the subsequent case Planned Parenthood v. Casey, holding “that Roe and Casey must be overruled.” They countered the Roberts concurrence by claiming that such an approach “would only put off the day when we would be forced to confront the question we now decide.”
SCOTUS: Roe v. Wade Opinion Failed to Explain Basis of Right to Abortion
The Supreme Court mentioned that the Roe opinion failed to specifically lay out where a person’s right to abortion came from. Instead, it gave some areas of the Constitution that might explain such a right. Regarding the Casey decision, Alito wrote that it “did not defend this unfocused analysis” but grounded the right of Liberty protected by the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause instead.
The Court’s opinion recognized that the said clause had been found to guarantee certain rights of an individual, particularly those not explicitly stated in the Constitution. Still, such rights are “deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition.” The Court also said that abortion” does not fall within this category” because “such a right was entirely unknown in American law” until late in the 20th century.
The earliest known basis for a person’s right to abortion, according to SCOTUS, are some state and district court decisions from a time “shortly before Roe” and “a small number of law review articles from the same time period.”
Alito pointed at the dissenting opinion coming from Justices Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan, and Sonia Sotomayor, saying that it “is very candid that it cannot show that a constitutional right to abortion has any foundation, let alone a ‘deeply rooted’ one, ‘in this Nation’s history and tradition.'”
“The dissent’s failure to engage with this long tradition is devastative to its position,” Alito added.
— GOP (@GOP) June 24, 2022
The majority opinion also pointed out that the dissenting opinion failed to provide any “serious discussion” focused on the states’ interest to protect the life of a fetus while clarifying that the Court’s ruling “is not based on any view about if and when prenatal life is entitled to any of the rights enjoyed after birth.”
Following this, the Court addressed the concept of stare decisis, which is the tradition of following the established court precedent.
“Overruling a precedent is a serious matter,” Alito went on. “It is not a step that should be taken lightly.”
Nevertheless, he said, if the Supreme court would not overturn precedent, “American constitutional law as we know it would be unrecognizable, and this would be a different country.”
Majority Opinion Provides 5 Reasons Why Roe and Casey Should be Overruled
Following this, the Court asserted five reasons why Roe and Casey need to be overruled: “the nature of their error, the quality of their reasoning, the ‘workability’ of the rules they imposed on the country, their disruptive effect on other areas of the law, and the absence of concrete reliance.”
According to the Court, Casey’s test regarding whether a law places an “undue burden” on one’s ability to acquire an abortion “has scored poorly on the workability scale,” citing late Justice Antonin Scalia, who once stated that the test is “inherently standardless.”
The majority opinion also scrutinized Casey for how it was worded vaguely and ambiguously and its failure to provide a “clear answer” regarding how to apply the aforementioned undue burden test.
It also explained that both Roe and Casey hampered other areas of law. The opinion claimed that they “have diluted the strict standard for facial constitutional challenges,” ignored crucial judicial principles, and “distorted First Amendment doctrines.”
With regards to the issue of reliance, the Supreme Court mentioned that such an interest usually comes up” where advance planning of great precision is most obviously a necessity.” Alito also mentioned Casey itself “conceded that those traditional reliance interests were not implicated because getting an abortion is generally ‘unplanned activity.”
On the other hand, the Court said that Casey’s claim, stating that people have decided upon their relationships while relying on abortion as an option, is not concrete enough. It also said that “this Court is ill-equipped to assess ‘generalized assertions about the national psyche.'”
Alito then talked about an argument made in the Casey case, particularly that “[t]he American people’s belief in the rule of law would be shaken if they lost respect for this Court as an institution that decides important cases based on principle, not ‘social and political pressures.'”
Although he recognized that “a special danger” exists of the public seeing it this way, the justice argued that “we cannot allow our decisions to be affected by any extraneous influences such as concern about the public’s reaction to our work.”