When a Supreme Court draft ruling was leaked in early May, it immediately became obvious that the Supreme Court was poised to overturn Roe v. Wade. But in some circles, there was still a hint of uncertainty. Would the public outrage cause some justices to reconsider? Was there still a chance Chief Justice John Roberts would work out some kind of compromise that left the status quo partially intact?
The answer, we learned this morning, was no. Roe is no more. NBC News reported:
The Supreme Court on Friday overturned the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling that guaranteed a constitutional right to an abortion in a 6-3 vote, a momentous break from a half century of rulings on one of the nation’s most controversial issues. About half the states have already indicated they would move to ban the procedure.
The fact that we knew to expect this doesn’t make it any less devastating for those who support American reproductive rights.
The ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization was 6-3, with each of the Republican-appointed justices voting in the majority, though it was not a clean split: Roberts concurred in the judgment, though he also said he wouldn’t have overturned Roe.
Of course, with a six-member conservative majority, the other Republican-appointed justices didn’t need the chief justice’s vote.
In case this isn’t obvious, it’s probably worth emphasizing that today’s ruling in Dobbs does not altogether end abortion rights in the United States. What it does instead is end the constitutional right: States can now choose to impose restrictions on reproductive rights without concern for the Roe precedent.
That said, this is cold comfort for millions of families nationwide: We're now faced with the prospect of millions of women having to travel out of state for reproductive health care, if they can afford it. What's more, there's nothing stopping Republicans from trying to pass a federal abortion ban, curtailing reproductive rights in states regardless of their wishes.
Writing for the majority, Justice Samuel Alito wrote, “The Constitution does not confer a right to abortion; Roe and Casey are overruled; and the authority to regulate abortion is returned to the people and their elected representatives.”
As a practical matter, abortion rights will now disappear in roughly half the country.
Quoting an earlier ruling, the Supreme Court’s three dissenters wrote, “Power, not reason, is the new currency of this Court’s decision making.” Justices Stephen Breyer, Elana Kagan, and Sonia Sotomayor added:
“Roe has stood for fifty years. Casey, a precedent about precedent specifically confirming Roe, has stood for thirty. And the doctrine of stare decisis — a critical element of the rule of law — stands foursquare behind their continued existence. The right those decisions established and preserved is embedded in our constitutional law, both originating in and leading to other rights protecting bodily integrity, personal autonomy, and family relationships. The abortion right is also embedded in the lives of women — shaping their expectations, influencing their choices about relationships and work, supporting (as all reproductive rights do) their social and economic equality. Since the right’s recognition (and affirmation), nothing has changed to support what the majority does today. Neither law nor facts nor attitudes have provided any new reasons to reach a different result than Roe and Casey did. All that has changed is this Court.”
They concluded with a word not usually seen in high court rulings.
“With sorrow — for this Court, but more, for the many millions of American women who have today lost a fundamental constitutional protection — we dissent.”