The Supreme Court on Friday extinguished the constitutional right to abortion, ending the 49-year reign of Roe v. Wade and unleashing a tsunami of outrage from women, who could see reproductive rights roundly restricted in half the country.
The 6-to-3 ruling, delivered in a Mississippi case, had been expected after a draft majority opinion leaked to the news media in May, and came from a conservative high court that was remade by President Donald Trump to tilt far further to the right.
The decision represented a seismic political shock — perhaps the court’s most polarizing work in generations — and could transform the fall midterm elections, driving Democratic enthusiasm in a cycle that was expected to heavily advantage out-of-power Republicans.
In overturning Roe, the court’s conservatives bucked the view of the majority of Americans, who have long opposed a reversal of the 1973 decision, according to opinion polls. Roe was decided by a 7-to-2 vote.
The final decision mirrored the leaked draft in myriad ways, though Chief Justice John Roberts, a conservative, joined the majority after dissenting in the draft.
Roberts suggested in a concurring opinion that he would have preferred to uphold the Mississippi law — which bans most abortions illegal after 15 weeks of pregnancy — without taking the “dramatic step of altogether eliminating the abortion right first recognized in Roe.”
But the court’s other five conservatives seemed set on quashing Roe. Justice Samuel Alito said in the court’s majority opinion that “Roe was egregiously wrong from the start,” that its “reasoning was exceptionally weak” and that it had “damaging consequences.”
“It is time to heed the Constitution and return the issue of abortion to the people’s elected representatives,” Alito wrote.
The court’s three liberal justices joined in a incandescent dissent, writing that the court had laid waste to a “constitutional right that safeguards women’s freedom and equal station,” placed in jeopardy other rights “from contraception to same-sex intimacy and marriage” and undermined the court’s own legitimacy.
“With sorrow — for this Court, but more, for the many millions of American women who have today lost a fundamental constitutional protection — we dissent,” said the dissent from Justices Elena Kagan, Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor.
The court’s decision, which also voided the 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey ruling reaffirming Roe, will not cut into New Yorkers’ legal right to abortion. New York legalized abortion in 1970 and expanded reproductive rights in 2019.
But 26 states are likely or certain to enact near-blanket bans on abortion, according to an analysis by the Guttmacher Institute, a pro-abortion rights New York nonprofit. Many conservative state legislatures have been preparing for the fall of Roe for years.
“Today, the Supreme Court took away the right of millions of Americans to make decisions about their own bodies. This decision is a grave injustice,” Gov. Hochul said in a statement. “New York has always been a beacon for those yearning to be free.”
“Our state will always be a safe harbor for those seeking access to abortion care,” she added in the statement. “To anyone who is working to deny abortion access, our message is clear: not here, not now, not ever.”
And Mayor Adams issued a statement describing the decision as an “affront to basic human rights and one that aims to shackle women and others in reproductive bondage.”
The fate of Roe was apparently sealed in the final months of Trump’s one term, when the liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died, and Republicans rushed to confirm her replacement, Justice Amy Coney Barrett.
Barrett, an Indiana conservative, was confirmed to the court in October 2020, overcoming blanket Democratic opposition in the Senate, and reshaping the landscape of power on the court, where Chief Justice John Roberts had previously served as the swing vote.
Many observers have expected Roe to fall ever since the court in September allowed Texas’ ban on most abortions to take effect amid a legal challenge.
In December, the court’s conservatives again displayed an openness to overturning Roe during oral arguments in the Mississippi case, further delighting conservatives and dismaying liberals.
Republicans have stewed over Roe, arguing that the decision lacked grounding in the text of the Constitution.
Democrats, meanwhile, have long argued the ruling offered a critical lifeline for women, protecting against government overreach into women’s choices. Liberal lawyers say the Constitution’s protections plainly, if implicitly, cover bodily autonomy.
The sterile legal arguments, though, hardly do justice to decades of passionate debate around Roe, a case situated in the center of a roiling debate about women’s rights and about the prickly philosophical question of when life begins.
By gutting Roe, the Supreme Court satisfied decades of GOP dreams. But it also threatened its standing in the eyes of millions who see the decision as the product of careful political plotting.
All three of Trump’s nominees emphasized their reverence for precedent when asked about Roe during their confirmation hearings, seemingly convincing pro-Roe Republicans like Sen. Susan Collins of Maine that the ruling was safe.
But it was not. Sensing the danger, Justice Sotomayor raised pointed questions to her colleagues during oral arguments in the Mississippi case.
“Will this institution survive the stench that this creates in the public perception that the Constitution and its reading are just political acts?” the Greenwich Village liberal asked, referencing the effects of a ruling overturning Roe.
“If people actually believe that it’s all political, how will we survive?” Sotomayor said in December. “How will the court survive?”